Our Personal Tales of Book Abuse

A few months ago, I was reading The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks. It was a copy from my university library and I was really into it (it’s a great book to start deconstructing masculinity). I snapped a photo for the Book Riot instagram account and checked back a few days later to see what people were saying about the book I was reading. To my surprise, most of the comments were about my poor reading etiquette: that poor spine!! I was breaking it mercilessly AND it’s a library book.

I had no idea some people take reading etiquette so seriously. I am a messy reader, I break spines and I eat while I read. I also walk around the house while reading and sometimes bump into things or trip up the stairs. I guess for me, books are to be read and spines are meant to be broken.

The worst I’ve ever done is drop a paperback version of MaddAddam in the bath because I couldn’t put it down even to get into the bath. I treat books like my best friends, I take them everywhere and want them with me but sometimes best friends get hurt… and the markings of my books remind me of the story I was living in the moment I was reading them.

So I decided to ask other Rioters if they felt the same way I did. I asked: Are books to be consumed? Or must they be kept in pristine conditions? If you’re a messy reader what’s the worst you’ve ever done to a book?

Kate Scott said… 

Last year I was completely horrified when I dropped my beautiful Everyman’s Library hardcover edition of Parade’s End into a sink full of water. Blowdryer in hand, I immediately launched a rescue operation. Thankfully the book is so thick and I retrieved it from the water so quickly that not all of the pages were completely soaked through. The spine, top corners, and the first 300 pages or so had the most damage. Still, I had to blow-dry all 968 pages individually. This little catastrophe really made me fall in love with Everyman’s editions because they are, as I learned the hard way, amazingly resilient. The ink didn’t bleed at all, the spine held together beautifully, and the only remaining visible damage are a few hundred slightly crimped pages. I think it adds character.

Alison Peters said…

I love when, like Nicole writes above, the markings of my book tell a story about where I was and what I was doing when reading them. So I’m always a little delighted when I open a book and sand or a pressed flower falls out, reminding me of that beach trip reading bliss or a flower-worthy moment in a book. But I also often eat and enjoy a nice cuppa coffee while I’m reading, and the worst stains have come from an over exuberant bite of a burger dripping onto the page, or, most recently an entire cup of hot, dark coffee spilling on my tissue-paper thin, Costco-version boxed set of Game of Thrones book three. Right around the time of the Red Wedding, cuz I had remained spoiler free and the actual event just about killed me, along with some of my favorite Westero-ians. I don’t have a blow dryer like Kate Scott, so I spent the next hour frantically flapping, blowing on and pressing towels into the soggy pages. They’re now a crispy, stained tribute to some really good writing.

Katie McLain said…

I’ve been a big fan of mealtime reading, which is a problem because I’m also a messy eater, which drove my parents crazy. It’s also funny because I AM a librarian and nothing grosses me out more than when someone returns a book with food stains. (Okay, maybe other things gross me out more. But that’s for a different discussion.) I try to keep my borrowed books in better condition, but it’s not always successful. One time my friend loaned me a copy of A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, but before I could return it to her, one of my cats threw up on it. Thankfully she was understanding and told me not to worry about it but now I keep my borrowed books out of my cats’ hairball range.

Cassandra Neace said…

I’m a spine-breaker.  That makes me sound much more intimidating than I actually am. I do love my books, but I’m going to be more upset about damaging the cover art than I am about a broken spine. The only time that becomes an issue for me is when I’ve left the book sitting too long in a hot car (I live in Houston, so hot is the norm), and the glue stops being glue-y and the pages start falling out.  That’s happened a few times. More than a few. But it hasn’t made me change my ways.

Jen Sherman said…

I dog-ear pages. I drop crumbs in them and then can never get them out again. I write in them. And I take books everywhere, so they will inevitably end up looking a bit battered and sad as they get carelessly shoved into handbags, backpacks, and suitcases. But! I take better care of some books than others. The ones I *really* care about I’ll go to the effort of hunting down bookmarks and not shoving it into spaces where they might not fit. And they’ll probably be the ones I end up spilling tea on. So some of my books are in mint condition. Kind of mint. Vaguely mint flavoured, at least.

Tracy Shapley said… 

I am constantly losing books I’m in the middle of reading them and then finding them months later and then I’m forced to decide if I should start over or hope that I remember enough to continue where I left off. Sometimes the decision is too taxing and I end up just putting it back on my TBR bookcase where it’s likely to remain for the rest of its life. Common black holes my books fall into include the largish gap between my bed and the wall, the back-seat of my car, and the purse I “never” carry so I always insist there’s no way my lost book could be in it, until of course the next time I carry it (which is never, because I never carry a purse) and then, woah – lost book!

Jamie Canaves said…

My most dangerous reading habit would have to be all the books I’ve haphazardly left lying around my room, on my bed, or stacked on the floor that various rabbits over the years have taken as delicious chew toys. Randomly pick a book off my shelf and you may just be treated to a corner-less copy. In rabbit world book corners are apparently one notch below the deliciousness that is remote control buttons.

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