The first time my son destroyed a book in front of me, he was eight months old, and I think I yelped out loud.
“No, no! We do nice! We treat books with respect,” is what I started to say when he ripped that board book apart like Captain America splitting a log.
And then I heard myself, and made myself stop talking.
My son loves books. He loves them hard, and his love destroys them just like his love destroys the soft toys he drags around the house.
His list of casualties is long and varied:
- Pat the Bunny – cover ripped off
- Goodnight Moon — pages scattered around the playroom
- Mama, Do You Love Me? — flayed
- Hippos Go Berserk — ripped to shreds
- Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs — disemboweled
- The Very Hungry Caterpillarr – slimed
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? — I see a toddler tearing at me
- See Me Run — you didn’t run fast enough
Now he’s two, and I have bought more duplicates of books in the last year than I have in three decades of lending out novels and not getting them back.
As a book lover, I’ve been conditioned to see any damage of books as bad. Book burning is a symbol of willful ignorance, after all. I have a hard time getting my mind around the idea of making art from old books, or even writing notes in the margins of books. (Don’t even get me started on the ancient, brittle, now-unreadable books that I refuse to throw out. I tell myself I’ll donate them, even though I know that would mean some poor volunteer would have to throw them out.)
I like to think that this is a mostly-harmless psychosis, and that it comes from a good place, but you know? Maybe not so much.
I’ve been realizing that that inflicting the way I love books (“we respect literature, young man”) on the way my toddler loves books (“I want to love this book and squeeze it and call it George”) would totally suck.
There is plenty of time to learn to respect books, just as there is plenty of time for children to learn how to respect their toys without destroying them. Until then. there is room in our house for both kinds of book love.