My mother owned a used/antiquarian bookstore and taught me to revere books. I would no sooner crack open a spine or dog-ear a beloved book than I would handle family photographs with my fingers and thumbs all over 'em. As kids we drew on some of our children’s books (I had the almost compulsive need to draw smiles on Charlie Brown’s face whenever he looked sad), but that was the last time I put writing implement to the paper of a book. Except for textbooks, but even then I only used light pencil.
Here’s a real tale of book abuse. One of my most disturbing memories is from a few years after my mom died and my father was preparing to sell our house. He didn’t know what to do with the hundreds (probably nearly 1000) of books that had returned to our home after her store had closed. I was about 22 and no longer lived at home, but I was desperate that they be donated or sold or really anything but thrown out.
Pop had someone appraise the books and some were sold, but for whatever reason, he didn’t have the patience to handle the process. Maybe it was painful for him, maybe he just wanted the whole ordeal over with so he could move on. I begged him to let me handle it, but unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough or responsible enough or I just don’t know, I guess I was procrastinating because I really didn’t want to give up these books.
Anyway, one rainy weekend I came home, vowing to deal with the issue already. But when I arrived, I saw, at the edge of our driveway, huge piles of old, leather-bound, gilt-edged books, tied up and waiting for the garbage man to pick up. They were already warped and sagging from the rain.
I grabbed a few from the bottom of the pile that weren’t badly damaged, and then went inside and wept and wept. I felt like I’d lost my mom all over again, and that I’d failed her by not preventing her treasured books from destruction. It was a stab in the gut then, and even now dredging up the image in my mind causes a visceral ache. Took me a long time to stop resenting my father and being furious with myself for that incident.
So yeah, I treat books, even crappy mass-market paperbacks, with reverence. It makes me feel closer to my mother.
That said, I understand why some people don’t, and like others have mentioned I do kinda enjoy seeing bits of writing in the margins of old books, or dedications from whoever had given the book as a gift to someone else. It’s like having a pen-pal from the past.