Split Book Personality

I seem to hold somewhat contradictory opinions about books. I hold them in such reverence and yet, I love when they look used and worn. (But not dog-eared. I decided long ago that bookmarks were the way to go. ) I hate the way the spines on paperbacks get cracked and lined after reading, but I love that my Turkish dictionary has a dark smudge on the side of the pages from thumbing through it so much. I love the clean, crisp smell of a brand new hardcover, the freshness of the new print. However, I also love an old musty bookstore, filled with books that have been passed from hand to hand and used by unknown readers before me. I absolutely hate when a book is written in, and yet I find it hard not to annotate the books that I use for teaching (though granted, I have switched to sticky notes for annotation).

I love libraries but I hate the sterile atmosphere that they can have. Libraries are so careful to preserve, which is good, but at some point you can cross a line between preservation and mummification, especially when books are kept behind glass doors, presumably to keep them away from the great unwashed. When do we get to use these books? Where can we live with them, drink coffee with them, talk and laugh over them while they sit open on the table? This brings me, of course, to bookstores. I often find myself in the bookstore café. Here I can drink and eat, listen to music, people-watch, write or read, and when I lift my eyes up, I can see shelves upon shelves of books. They are comforting and they keep me company. I could be utterly alone in a bookstore and not feel alone. I would be surrounded with the ghosts from all of the books around me. Books hold stories and ideas and whole worlds – how can’t they be alive? As much as I love to wander amongst the books in the library stacks, it seems an injustice to keep them sequestered in sterile, quiet, lifeless vaults. I can understand how one may want to revere the books and treat them delicately so as not to ruin them, but I don’t waste them by being too afraid to have them out in the open, near voices and coffee and breadcrumbs.