There are some books in my collection I consider to be irreplaceable. I don’t mean “in the canon” or even the kind of books that you would want to survive for future generations after a Station Eleven-style apocalypse. Because I’m not talking about a book as a series of words printed on any old paper and ink, and I’m not even talking about a specific printing of a book with a specific cover and font. I’m talking about one singular copy of a specific printing of a book – my copy. I am talking about books as deeply personal physical objects whose destruction or loss I would truly mourn.
There are only a handful of books in my collection that are imbued with this amount of significance for me and they usually fall into three categories:
They’re falling apart
While I have a strict anti-spine-cracking policy, I do love worn-out-looking books (yes I know, how wild. I’m a fascinating, multitudinous contradiction!). A wrinkled, creased cover and dogeared pages bent from frequent readings are signs of love. My first copy of Anne of Green Gables bears the scars of my youthful obsession. Ditto my first Jane Eyre. My old-fashioned Penguin Classics copy of Little Women is held together by a piece of Scotch tape older than many school-aged children. As long as no deliberate damage is done to a book, the more battered and frankly decrepit-looking it becomes, the more I love it. If I was to lose one of these favourites, even if I replaced it with the same edition, it would be missing the signs of that passion. It would be incongruously new and somehow false.
They have travelled with me
I love film or television adaptations of classic novels but I rarely like the movie tie-in covers of their source material. It isn’t a case of “I read the book first” snobbishness so much as a general preference for the design of book covers over movie posters – they tend to be a little more creative and less literal. The sole exception to this rule is the 2004 movie tie-in version of Vanity Fair I picked up secondhand for a research project while studying abroad. I lugged that goddamned 850-page tome all over London. Some mornings I’d pack it in my purse when I left for the day and not return until late at night. I also carried it in my backpack when I travelled to other cities – in one particularly sketchy hostel, I even used it as a pillow. Me and this exact, Reese-Witherspoon-smirking copy have seen some things together and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
They were gifts
I casually collect copies of A Wrinkle in Time, one of my all-time favourite books. I have about half a dozen right now and while I don’t make it a point to hunt down different versions on ebay, when in a new bookshop in a new city I’ll always scout for a different version. But one version stands out, and that’s the one my parents had specially bound for me as a graduation gift. While my peers’ parents were picking out jewelry, my awesome mum was choosing leather binding and paper and font. My parents even made it uniquely, unmistakably mine by having “Maddie’s A Wrinkle in Time” embossed on the spine in gold lettering. It was the perfect gift – generous, thoughtful and so completely me. It’s been on display since the day I received it and there it will always be. It’s one of the most valuable things I own.
What are your irreplaceable books and why?