Saturday, December 24, 2016

Never do that to a book!

Looking at old and valuable rare books makes me acutely aware of how we should protect our books. Wednesday at the Bottom Shelf I spent my down time folding the pages of a book into an angel like this one. I had it 7/8th's finished near closing time when a tiny girl came in with her Dad. I gave it to her as I knew she could easily finish it. She was happy.


While I was desecrating the book, I felt a bit uneasy, having been taught all my life to protect and respect books, however the one I folded came from the dime section and who knows what it's fate might have been? Here's another Christmas craft with old books. I notice the craft people call this repurposing, not desecrating as I was thinking.

 All the books in the antique bookstore at the Venetian in Bauman's Rare Books had plastic covers on them, hard plastic covers - the kind you can't rip easily. The whole business of protecting books reminds me of Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman in which she includes a short essay called, "Never do that to a book." She talks about the way people handle books, writing in the margins or leaving them open on the spine so the binding can be cracked. Is it wrong to write in the margins? I've always enjoyed, like Billy Collins, reading what people scribble:

Marginalia - Poem by Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
'Nonsense.' 'Please! ' 'HA! ! ' -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls 'Metaphor' next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of 'Irony'
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
'Absolutely,' they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' 'My man! '
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature'
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; 
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.' 

One can overdo the book protection business. Anne writes about her friend Clark who won't let his wife raise the blinds until sundown lest the bindings on his library get faded in the sun.  He buys two copies of his favorite books so that only one need to be subjected to the stress of having its pages turned- that's going a little far. 

We had this book donated this week. Could you call this protecting the book? Or protecting the reader....


We see a lot of interesting bookmarks at the bottom shelf - we flip through the pages of those donated and find all kinds of things which people use to mark their spots. The one most frequently seen is a business card and second, a grocery receipt but we have found birth certificates, certificates of merit of various kinds, postcards and post-it notes. Richard uses low denomination foreign currency, like Vietnamese dong or Indonesian rupees. Anne writes about her aunt who uses reproductions of Audubon paintings horizontally to mark the exact paragraph where she left off. She turns the painting face up if she left off at the left page and face down if the right. I have a feather I like to use on the rare times that I read non-digitally any more...which is mostly Granta.

I wonder what Thomas Jefferson could have done with a Word program? He made his own version of the Bible by cutting out pages and passages with a razor blade and created The Jefferson Bible, now a treasure of the Smithsonian. It's said that he chopped up a priceless 1572 first edition of Plutarch's works in Greek in order to interleaf it with an English translation.


Here's Anne Fadiman's wonderful little book of essays.


1 comment:

  1. I never knew Jefferson was a repurposer. Imagine how much money he could have made on Etsy!