It started with a tweet, as things so often do these days.
But that tweet caused a storm so monumental that, even now, we’re still talking about it. It caused a stir so massive that even in one of my own personal WhatsApp group chats, where the topic of books has literally never come up, my friends were discussing their opinions.
As the book person, eyes have fallen to me. People want to know: Michael! THE TWEET! How does it make you feel?!
And while I know that the expected response, the one everyone hopes for, is that I’ll announce with some vitriol, “How dare they?! You can’t treat a book like THAT! It’s a disgrace! It goes against everything I, and my fellow Book People, stand for!!!”
The thing is…
Really, shouldn’t we all cut our books in half?
Okay maybe suggesting that we all go out and cut our books in half is a bit extreme, but my honest reaction to The Tweet?
But the tweet itself is just a gateway to a much wider argument, one that seems like it’ll never end. An argument about the treatment of books in general.
Do you dog-ear your pages? Leave annotations in the margins? Do you break the spine?
It’s a subject I’ve spoken on in the past, and it’s something I think bears talking about again and again. I truly believe that physical books are, for the most part, designed to be destroyed by the personality of the reader. Highlights, notes scribbled in pen, dog ears, even ripped out pages if you want to save something special for all time. And yes, if it makes a person happy, even cutting them in half for an easier reading experience.
Because, at the end of the day, who cares?
If someone buys a physical copy of a book with their own money, what difference does it make to the rest of the world what they do with it? The author and the publisher don’t care—they’ve already made their money.
On the other hand, preserving your books so that they look absolutely perfect sitting on your shelf as if they’ve never been touched since they left the printing press? Also completely fine.
Reading is a personal experience, it’s one of the few remaining pastimes, which generally, happens alone.
John Green, in relation to the question of reading on an e-reader or a physical book, once said, “I don’t really care how you read, I care whether you read.”
(Side note: weird video and weird circumstances for the quote to pop up, but that’s early 2010’s Vlogbrothers for you…)
And I’m of the same opinion.
When it comes to reading, what’s important to me isn’t the physical book that I’m holding. When it all comes down to it, those physical things you hold in your hand are just dead trees with ink scratched into them.
It’s the words that matter, the paper just holds them.
I think that there’s an incorrect correlation between loving books as a concept and loving books as a thing. When I say that I love books, I mean I love the content inside of them. I love characters, their development and interactions, I love plots, and I love structure and poetic writing. And yeah, sure, occasionally I’ll love a physical book if there’s something special about it. But generally, I don’t love the paper.
So when I see dog-ears marking an important page, or a hastily scribbled note discussing a personal favourite quote or theory on what’s going to happen, I smile because I know that someone has read those words and connected with them. I don’t wince at the sight of a broken spine, because I think that if I was to read so carefully as to avoid blemishing even the spine of the book, I’d not really be focusing on the reading.
When I saw The Tweet, I chuckled, then moved on with my life before I saw it come back onto my timeline with hundreds of comments ranging from the innocently offended to the alarmingly outraged.
People can read however they want, and treat their own books however they want. Can’t we all just accept that some people like to leave marks on their books while others don’t, and that we’re all on equal footing however we read?
If you ask me, I’ll echo John Green’s sentiments. I don’t care how you treat your books, if you tear them in half and scribble in every margin or if you delicately handle every page, I just care that you read.
“Who the hell cares what anybody else thinks? Just look into your heart and do whatever the hell makes you happy.”Dr. Kelso, Scrubs, “My Happy Place”