I’m going to open this with a story: A few years ago, I was reading a paperback version of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys when a friend of mine happened to notice that I was holding the book in one hand with the front cover bent, and the spine broken to the point of being almost unreadable. I was instantly yelled at for “destroying” the book. I was told that, as a writer and book lover, I should be the last person to participate in such a horrific act.
Okay, maybe my friend wasn’t really yelling at me in anger. They might have said it in a joking way. But there are people I know who would be furious at the thought of someone holding a book the way I was holding The Raven Boys that day.
I get it. Books are beautiful and should be protected at all costs. But the way I honestly see it, I’d much rather have a worn-out, well-read book on my shelf that’s clearly been devoured and loved than a book in pristine condition. That’s not to say that everyone who keeps their books in perfect condition doesn’t read them well, but if I see a book like that on a shelf, I often wonder if it’s even been read? If I want to look at rows and rows of pristine books, I can easily go to Waterstones (the UK equivalent of Barnes & Noble!)
To me, the thing about books is that the most important part is what’s inside — the words. If I’m reading a paperback, I don’t have a problem breaking the spine or (brace yourselves for this …) dog-earing the pages. I want that book to be (in every way it can be) mine, with all of my markings and little imperfections I cause it. I don’t have a problem with people who keep their books neat and tidy, in such good condition. Books like that are so nice to look at. But as I said before, if I want to see that I can easily go to a bookstore.
Breaking the spine of a book isn’t a criminal act, it’s often nothing but necessary.
If you read a book so carefully as to avoid bending the spine so that you can comfortably hold the book open fully, then are you really enjoying it at all? You’re putting so much focus into keeping the paper object so perfect that you’re probably not focussing on what’s written inside the book. Whenever you bring up the notion of dog-earing a book or annotating the margins, you’re likely to offend a large number of people. But really, what’s the problem? Taking notes in the pages of a book, or marking the pages by bending the corners, tells me that you’ve read that book. Really read it, and loved it enough — or maybe hated it enough — to make it known. Sure, index markers are good too, and what I personally use most of the time. But the book is still just paper. Leaving a little mark in it doesn’t change the words or the plot.
So really, in the end, the only thing I can say is that it’s okay to ‘ruin’ your books.
Break the spine, dog-ear the pages, highlight your favourite passages and scribble notes in the margins with your thoughts and opinions. Or, conversely, don’t. If you love to keep your books in perfect condition, then do that. All I want is to talk about the fact that it’s okay to read a book however you want to read it. There is no correct way to read a book, all that matters is that you do read the book.