02 September 2007

Books without Abuse Lose their Charm

After three years of complaints from the book police — an ex who is very particular about keeping books in the state in which he obtains them (spine-cracking is the ultimate offence), it was rather liberating to be able to enjoy the books I read after we broke up.

I am a book vandal and proud of it. I break the spines, I fold over the corners of pages, I scribble notes to myself in the text, highlight important passages and use the inside back cover as a notebook when my Moleskine is absent. Perhaps this is because a lot of my favourite books are somewhat epic (Gravity's Rainbow, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Kane & Abel, etc.) and to keep them in pristine condition is just too much effort. Maybe it is also because when I am travelling and need to discard books along the way (at hostels or in coffee shops) to make room for incoming purchases, I like the idea of other people having access to my thoughts as they read the book.

I still regret leaving my original copy of Gravity's Rainbow at the Yosemite Bug Lodge last summer to save lugging the 800-odd page tome around any further. I made so many great notes in that copy: a different ex had jotted down some basic calculus for me to help me understand some parts of the book and I had highlighted a number of quotations I wanted to remember and still can't find now.

I was, therefore, glad to see that I am not the only book vandal out there; Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution commented earlier this week on a Chicago Tribune article to which I don't have access all about the ethics of book abuse and whether one should mark pages, highlight or even discard books at all. 

This reminds me of the website BookCrossing, which I came across a couple of years ago in which site users are encouraged to "register" a book and then leave it somewhere public where others will be able to find it and pick it up. They then print out a label with an ID number to attach to the book telling the finder that they can keep this and that they should go to the BookCrossing site where they can enter the number and say they have picked it up and then "release" it themselves when they are done. This way, you can track the progress of your released books as they travel the world (this would work great in hostels).

For example, someone released a copy of Sellevision: A Novel by Augusten Burroughs yesterday on a bench on Parker's Piece in Nowheresville. If I wanted to and were quick enough, I could head out there and collect it before making a note of this on the site.

I think it's a great idea in principle although none of the books released in Cambridge appealed to me enough to go "hunting" (I seem to remember that last time I looked, I went to the soy sauce section in Sainsbury's to try to find a book but it wasn't there; whether it was removed by staff or picked up by someone else, I have no idea).

Time to go and break the spine of my latest literary acquisition: Essays by George Orwell.

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