Patina can be beautiful. I love copper roofs that have turned turquoise, and weathered wooden beach chairs (though I’m wary of splinters). But I hate, hate, hate wear and tear in my books.
In my collegiate youth, I didn’t mind highlighting or notes in books, especially in textbooks. (Thanks, previous owner, for doing some of my work for me!) Even in non-textbooks, I found handwritten notes fascinating. It was as if the book had come with an additional story–a story about the previous owner and his or her perspective.
Today, however, I’ve completely reversed my opinion. Torn covers and coffee stains have become aesthetically awful to me. They don’t say, “This book was loved”; they say, “I’m a slob.” (Confession: there is coffee on almost everything I own, and yes, I am a slob. I just don’t want it to be that obvious.) A book is a beautiful thing. How arrogant of me to think I should leave my own grubby markings on it.
Part of this change of heart is due to my hardcover copy of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. A lavish purchase during my super broke, just-out-of-college days, I carried the book everywhere while reading it–and I almost ruined it in the process. Featuring a beautiful and intricate drawing of a wind-up bird’s internal gears, the cover became scarred with small stains. The edges got nearly worn away. To me, that’s not beautiful; it’s a sign of my carelessness.
The other reason I reversed my love of book patina: I earned a master’s degree in information studies (when I started my degree, it was called library science), with a specialization in preservation administration. I don’t use my degree professionally, but it’s inspired me to take better care of my personal library. I never eat while reading, lest a crumb dirty up the page or tempt a varmint into nibbling on the book. I try to avoid cracking the spines and dog-earing the pages (unless I find a typo, because I’m a snotty perfectionist like that). And I definitely don’t write in them. I still buy used books, though I’ve become picky about those as well; but I’m just as careful with them as I am with my new books.
So I’m a nut about keeping my books in near-mint condition. But how the hell do I read them?
The short answer: carefully. The longer answer: I read hardcovers at home, and the only reading material in my purse is my e-reader or paperbacks that don’t have a lot of sentimental value. (When I got a signed copy of Far and Away, the newest book by Rush’s notoriously reclusive drummer Neil Peart, my husband purchased an additional unsigned copy of the book so we can pore over it without panicking that we’re ruining something priceless.)
I realize a lot of people will find my book preservation efforts silly or snobby. Others may claim this is a pathetic attempt to inflict order within a chaotic world over which I have little control. I can’t argue with that. But I can say that enjoying a book and keeping it in good shape don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It takes some effort, but it’s worth it to me.
When she’s not revising her first trilogy of YA novels, hugging her rescued dogs, or playing “Rock Band” with her husband, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt writes for her blog ThatsAGirlsCar.com. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University and a Master’s in Information Studies from UT-Austin. A native Texan, she grew up in McAllen but has called Austin home for over a decade.