The first book up for the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon is Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. 38 pages in my heart has started attempting to leap out of my chest in horror. I’ve slowly built up to this point. Ms. Fadiman’s mentioned writing in the margins of her books a couple times prior to page thirty-eight so I was somewhat aware that her regard for the physical integrity of a book is not the same as mine. But then… Oh then… Let me let you read it:
What would Belloc have thought of my father, who, in order to reduce the weight of the paperbacks he read on airplanes, tore off the chapters he had completed and threw them in the trash? What would he have thought of my husband who reads in the sauna, where heat-fissioned paged drop like petals in a storm? What would he have thought (here I am making a brazen attempt to upgrade my family by association) of Thomas Jefferson, who chopped up a priceless 1572 first edition of Plutarch’s works in Greek in order to interleave its pages with an English translation?
I admit to being much more rough on my books than many. Being raised the child of two book lovers, I had radically different examples shown to me. My father would (the horror!) dogear the pages of his books to hold his place when a bookmark wasn’t nearby. My mother would never think of using anything other than a bookmark to keep track of her reading, even if she had to get up and search for a scrap of paper, she would never upturn a book and leave it in the vulgar position that many do (to loosely quote the entertaining Ms. Fadiman): pages splayed spreadeagled. Now, I am not so much shocked by the revelation that her husband reads books in the sauna as I am by the thought of the pages falling out. I read in the bathtub, in fact it is one of my favorite places to do so. I’m not one to sit in the tub and just stare off into space, if I’m soaking, I require entertainment. But should my selected read get saturated enough for the pages to fall out, I would assume that my conscious would smack me upside the head and I would be forced to repay the universe lest the awful karmic debt drag me down to dung beetle level.
But tearing off chapters just because you’ve finished reading them??? Where is the humanity? That sentence alone made me praise the creation of the ereader (and I can only hope that he and readers like him fully utilize the technology so no more helpless books need die for lack of convenience). The kind of shock that this instills in my system is akin to the feeling I imagine my lack of order and discipline gives my mother when she walks in one of the chits’ rooms. “We don’t treat books that way!!!” she yells after scooping up a book that has been upended on the floor which is immediately followed by wild gesticulation and glares meant to burn the skin off my face. Indeed, Mom, we don’t treat books with the disregard I imagine you believe we feel. But then, I’m the daughter that got more of my father’s book genes than hers. My books are spread throughout my home, wherever I was last is where they rest. I have been known to plant books in specific locations to enrich my day as I go about my activities. I lose more bookmarks than I use and though I attempt to read new books with the pages only slightly opened to avoid cracking the spines, once I get into the story I’ve been known to actually bend back the pages to make the book easier to read after I’ve forgotten myself and used the floor as my bookmark. I still feel a slight ping in my heart when I change a book from its original condition, but I often find it unavoidable. I’m never actually trying to hurt the book, it is just that when one lives with books as constant companions as I do, they tend to feel a little of the backlash of life. (As you can see, just the thought of my mom and books sends me into justification state, attempting to alleviate the guilt inspired by my lack of care.)
Earlier in the book, Ms. Fadiman had written about the theory of “waking” from a book and I thought, “At last!” because I can not begin to tell you how many people have been mortally insulted due to me “ignoring” them while reading. No matter how I tried to tell them that I just didn’t hear them, they never believed me. But it is true and now I have proof that there are others like me. When I’m immersed in a good story, all of my other faculties shut off. I have no idea what I look like to the outsider but I’m assuming there is a slack-jawed, drooling kind of thing going on as I am clearly not inhabiting my body but instead chasing vampires down dark alleys, hiding from authority figures at the end of the world, or sitting in a Victorian garden waiting for my fate to be decided by a man.
I do believe this book is going on my to-buy list for a read that can impress me, offend me, and entertain me all within 38 short pages is one I want to have forever.