I’m sure nearly every book blogger out there has very firm opinions on the physical appearances of their books. You’ve heard them time and time again, I’m sure. Tons of book bloggers will talk about how they hate dog-eared pages, smears, thumbprints, cracked spines, peeling edges, underlines and highlights, and just anything that makes their books look like they weren’t just purchased from the bookstore.
And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that! I’m not about to bash anybody’s bookish habits! (God knows we’re all broke-ass nerds anyway.) Instead, what I’m going to do today is simply talk about the alternative: battered books.
You know what I’m talking about. Books with dog-eared or wrinkled pages, thumbprints, cracked spines and curling edges, thumbprints, faded ink, and everything that most bookworms regard as unattractive in a book. They can be just as beautiful, Instagrammable, and just generally pretty to look at as pristine books. It all depends on how you look at them.
Let me start off with a story. Back in 2009, I had the privilege of meeting my favorite author Neil Gaiman and getting my books signed by him. I was quite embarrassed because all around him were people who had mint-fresh issues of Sandman, newly-bought paperbacks, and hardbound books still in their paper packages from Fully Booked. Meanwhile, my copies of American Gods, Smoke and Mirrors, Stardust, Fragile Things, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens, and Neverwhere had clearly been through the ringer: the edges of the covers were peeling back, the pages were dog-eared, the paper yellowed, and the spine cracked so much that the book could lie flat while open.
When I finally got to Neil Gaiman’s table, I almost wanted to turn tail and run away. In the end, I got up on that stage, handed Neil my books, and apologized because they looked so ugly. He laughed, signed my books, and said something I’ve never forgotten (although, let’s be real, great author like him? He probably already has):
“I love seeing my books all beat up like this. It means you really enjoyed them. You read them over and over again. It means my books became your friends.”
I nearly fainted from excitement, let me tell you. Imagine being sixteen years old, an aspiring author, and hearing that? Damn.
And that’s why I think it’s perfectly okay to have beat-up, battered, ugly books. Cracked spines, dog-eared and folded pages, faded ink, and smears and fingerprints are all testaments to how much a book means to a certain person. That person loved the story within those pages that they probably opened the book so much to read and reread it, highlighted passages they found poignant or meaningful, and carried it wherever they went. They also probably lent it out a ton because they wanted to spread that story around as much as they could – and it subsequently got a bit roughed up, passing through so many hands.
The point is, battered and beat-up books are just as beautiful as clean and pristine ones. Sometimes, they can even be more beautiful. They’re proof that an author really connected with a reader, a complete stranger who’s maybe thousands of miles away. They’re proof that a reader related so deeply with the vision in someone else’s head, that the same thoughts the ran through one mind run in another, that a person was affected so much by someone else’s words that they couldn’t wait to devour more.
For those who can’t stand dog-earing and faded ink and thumbprints and other hallmarks of the battered book – that’s totally fine! To each their own. Again, we’re all broke-ass nerds anyway. But just maybe, give it a rest when talking about how you cringe so hard when you see other people dog-earing or underlining their books. How they process a story and how you process a story are two different things – and both are a-okay!
Do you not mind battered books, or do you prefer them to remain squeaky-clean? Share your thoughts!