In Defense Of Worn-Out, Dog-Eared, Battered, Loved Books


Don’t do that,” she said.

I glanced up from the page I was reading, confused as to what exactly I was supposed to stop doing.

“You’re creasing the spine!” she explained with an exasperated wave of her hand, as if the problem was so blatantly obvious that I was mad not to immediately observe her order.

I asked her how I should read my book instead. She snatched it from me and inched it open, her nose practically sandwiched between two pages and replied: “Like this.”

It was not the first time something of this sort had transpired. I remember a group of girls raising their eyebrows in horror as I dog-eared a page of The Kite Runner. “What are you doing?!” one of them said, “You’re ruining it!” said another. It was almost as if I were a child who had violated one of the most fundamental rules in existence:

Don’t interrupt the adults.
Don’t speak with your mouth full.
Don’t wear out your books. 

A creased spine was a felony. A dog-eared page was a sin. God forbid a smudge materialize.

When I asked my mother if I could borrow her copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, she handed me a tiny book, brown as a sliced apple left uncovered, and smiled. She didn’t have to inform me how many times it had been read — the spine that had nearly snapped in half explained enough. She didn’t have to tell me which part was her favorite — the pages that bore Atticus Finch’s closing argument were smudged and folded from endless revisits. She didn’t have to confess to me that she couldn’t bear to part with it until she was finished — the crinkled pages showed me that it had even ventured with her into the bathroom, and consequently taken a dive into the bathtub as well.

A perfectly maintained book is akin to online reading: You can see it, but you can’t really feel it. It isn’t tangible. A scrollbar on a computer doesn’t exactly give you the same sensation turning a page of a book does. You can feel well-maintained books! I hear you say. Physically maybe, but not emotionally. White pages don’t tell you the same tale brown ones do.

Books and people are similar in the manner that they age. In the same way lines accumulate near the eyes of someone who has spent countless years chuckling more than the average person, or wrinkles appear in the forehead of someone who frowns more than the typical human being, a book’s blemishes are telling signs as to when a story is about to get particularly memorable. I confess to having tear stains on the last few pages of the final Harry Potter book.

Upon moving into our new house, my family and I were careful to sit (or in truth, not sit) on all of the furniture gingerly. This was our attempt to keep the house looking brand new for as long as possible. Collapsing on the couch after a hard day’s work? Forget it. Legs on the coffee table? Don’t you dare.

Sure enough, everything in the house remained glossy and pristine… but it wasn’t until the first glass of wine was spilled on the carpet during a dinner party, that we were given the license to actually live in it. It wasn’t until the imperfections began to surface that we could genuinely refer to our new house as our new home.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Keeping a book looking brand new may work for some people, clearly. But for me, it needs to lose its title of being a new book before I can determine whether or not it’s worthy of being called a good book.

featured image – Hillary Boles