I have a problem with my wife: she puts her mugs on books. I watch her do it as if it’s happening in slow motion, and when the mug lands I think I might release a gasp like a teenage girl ignored by a walking-on-by Justin Bieber. I can’t stand it. She thinks I’m being prissy, but I’m about respecting the book – even if it is a crappy bargain-bin paperback where all the characters are constantly “shocked” and have papier-mâché motivations.
This comes from being a kid at Carfield School, Sheffield. One class was about picking a book that you might want to read. I vaguely remember wondering why I would want to read when I could spend time climbing a tree; or more importantly, playing football. I picked one that looked interesting as it had owls on it. Owls are interesting birds (though they are the emblem of the enemy football team across the city). So I flicked the pages, starting my thumb at the front cover and flashing the pages to the bottom. I received a slapped hand from the teacher and a short lecture on the preciousness of books. I can’t remember her name, but I knew I hated her from that moment – but I did respect the book. Even the ones I never read were from that moment treated as if they were an ancient relic in need of preservation.
Steve Leveen‘s recent blog made me want to slap his hand. He advocates writing in the margins of books as an indicator of your history with it, a legacy for your ancestors to enjoy. Only just avoiding a finger wagging session – my daughter had just fallen asleep in our bed and the shaking might have woken her – I almost liked the idea. I love history even more than crime fiction and the thought that my great-great-great grand-kids might see my scrawlings has a certain appeal, possibly enhancing their literacy (from reading the book if not from me). It seems his point is that the scribblings won’t be the only part of history – the printed book will join them in a fabled past along with gramophones (they never really existed right?) and Mintola‘s (hang on, just found out they are now Mint Crunchies and still exist – where have I been?). I’ll rewind a little. They will still exist, but as items to display reverently on a bookcase as if they were in a glass case at a museum, therefore costing an arm and the lower half of a leg. You can take respecting a book too far.
Catherine Ryan Howard, a blogger I am trying my best not to bother incessantly with my naive ramblings, recently described her “delirium” at seeing a special edition of Jurassic Park, an emotion that convinces her print will never become extinct. I hope so, because I don’t always want to read a book as if I’m Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
Books, even scraggy paperbacks, look good on a bookshelf. My neighbours’ window drags your eye inwards every time I walk by. It’s like looking inside an old style bookshop, and sometimes I’ll stand a short while (moving on before they catch me) seeing what they have. I wouldn’t fill my place up like that (my wife wouldn’t allow it anyway), but I like the view – I do talk to them by the way, I am not a peeping Tom.
This is not to dismiss eBooks. Mine will be in that format first, but I eventually want it out in paperback because I want to touch it. I want other people to touch it. And I love the cover so much I want it in people’s sight-lines.
And if anybody rests their mug on it I will slap their hands silly.