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Monday, October 12, 2015

Dog-Eared

We all have different types of relationships with books. And it should be mentioned as I begin writing this post, that I am thinking specifically about actual physical books. They can be paperbacks, hardcovers, leather-or-cloth- bound, heck, even cardboard. But again, I am speaking of actual rather than virtual/electronic books in this post. 

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. I began first grade able to read books entirely by myself. On the second or third day of school, the nun who was the pricipal of the Catholic school I attended came into our classroom and said that everyone who had not been in kindergarten should stand. There were maybe half a dozen of us. The next day, all of the others were gone. I am sure that the only reason I stayed behind was that I was already the best reader in my class. I am not trying to brag; I'm just thrilled that I had those skills and didn't have to be put back. They made up for it by sending me to summer school, at which I learned nothing more valuable than how to make a turkey from a paper plate. 

Through all of both the best and the worst times in my childhood, books were always there for me. I could be unsure of whether I was going to be in trouble for some random thing, but the books were always good to me. In moments, I could find myself in Ancient Greece with the Gods and Heroes. The next day, I might be reading about a dog named Buck or The Velveteen Rabbit, followed by a book about Abraham Lincoln or a spider named Charlotte. I loved all kinds of books and read through more than I could count.

All through school, I still devoured books at every opportunity. I read fiction that was modern and a bit on the older side. I delved into dinosaurs and kids in puberty and Egyptian tombs and the tragic tales of Edwardian era governesses. The library was one of my favorite places in the world. And occasionally, someone would give me a book. Sometimes even two or three. These books were well-loved and respected, and sometimes read over and over again. As I became a highschooler and was able to buy myself books with the money I made babysitting, I enjoyed bookstores even more. I might see a movie or television program that had started as a book, and would eagerly search for the treasured story after riding the bus to the mall or walking to a local shop. 

I remember seeing a program on tv with Gram based on a book called I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven. It remains one of the most starkly beautiful and touching books I have ever read. I remember sitting on the step that led down from the kitchen to the back-door landing, reading the book at every possible moment. As the story came to its sad and lovely end, I had tears streaming down my face and wetting my shirt. Many years later, when Gram was in a nursing home, I purchased a copy of The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I read voraciouly, finishing the book at about 2:30 in the morning. I don't know if it was book that left me with streaming tears and a dampened shirt again, or if it was an opportunity to release the pain I was feeling at Gram's inevitable passing. But does it really matter?

As I said earlier, books mean different things to different people. Some people don't care much for reading at all, and then there are those of us who love not just reading, but the entire experience of opening a book, whether old or brand-new, and inhaling its intoxicating perfume. I knew a person who never read the same book twice, and also hated to have extra things around her home. She would buy a book, read it once, and give it away. I still can't fully understand that, because giving some of my more treasured books away is like giving away friends and family members.

What prompted me to write this today was a post online from my friend Ed. It was a picture with a literary quote which is immaterial to this particular raving. The picture was of a large, open book. A puppy had fallen asleep with his head and upper body lying on its open pages. Ed's comment was what got me thinking: Do you dog-ear pages too? This was a clever play on words by Ed, whose wittiness is impressive and delightful. The obvious statement to most people is the dog's ears physically on the book. The less obvious, to some, is the treatment of a book's pages. If you dog-ear, you mark your place in the book by folding over a corner of a page. When I realized that I wanted to say more than was appropriate in a comment, tonight's post was born.

I don't dog-ear. I will use my last dollar bill, a receipt, a napkin, heck, I'd even pull a hair out of my head to mark my place in a book. Something that really irks me is when someone disprespects a book that I lend them. If you have purchased a book, you can treat it in any way you wish. I will be careful with your book out of respect for both the book and you. When a book leaves my hands in good shape and comes back to me with dog-eared pages and/or a broken spine, my heart hurts a little and I get more than a bit mad at the borrower on the book's behalf. 

And another thing - a lot of people don't seem to realize what dust jackets are for. A dust jacket is the paper cover placed on a hardcover book. It tells the name of the work within as well as the author's, and often contains artwork that gives a visual impression of the story inside the pages. There is often information about the story and author on the ends of the dust jacket, helping you to know what to expect and whether you might like to purchase it or borrow it from the library. While the pictures and words can help to sell the book, ultimately their purpose is to protect the book's hard cover from wear and soiling. Essentially, it's the dust jacket's job to sacrifice itself to wear and tear to protect the book underneath. Such a noble cause!

I remember when I let a coworker borrow a fascinating non-fiction book I was reading a number of years ago. I was pleasantly surprised that she had expressed interest in the book, because I had never had any indication from Sarah that she was much of a reader. Over the coming days, she told me how fascinated she was with the book. One day she came into the shop at DIA where we were both working, the book clutched to her chest. But the book looked different. It was not wearing a jacket! I asked her what had happened to the jacket and she proudly told me that she took it off to protect it. I told her on no uncertain terms that I would rather the jacket be harmed than the book. She looked like she thought I was having a psychotic episode, but I didn't care.

The increased cost of books and my diminished fun money mean that I don't buy books as often as I used to. But I still love them. I have also discovered the convenience and decreased cost (sometimes free!) of getting books in electronic formats. I still love to reread books from days gone by. Sometimes the pages take me back not only to the story, but to the first time I read them. When I read Stephen King's Misery, for example, I am transported to the warm summer days when I was reading the book in the back yard or on the step or at the kitchen table. Then I turn the page and see where the person who borrowed it let their child dig holes in the pages with a sharp object. There is a sharp, hissing intake of breath at the shock of the violent-looking damage that I had forgotten about. I take a moment to calm myself, and let my imagination melt into the world contained within this book, this friend. We've been together before, and we'll be together again.


p.s. from The Lunatic: There are books and formats out there for everyone. You can remain rooted in facts or science, or be transported by fiction and fantasy. There are many libraries with online lending and many sources for free classics. I hope you'll find something to read and enjoy! Also, if you want to ask any questions about the books I mentioned, feel free!


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