Musing about some of the ways readers mistreat books

Originally published in March 2004.

Some people have no respect for books.

There are readers who don't hesitate to mark their place by folding down a corner or laying the book down open and face down, risking serious damage to the pages and spine.

Some like to break the spine before starting to read, which weakens the cover and loosens glued pages. Of course, sometimes you have to, especially when the book is as thick as a brick and fights back when you try to open it.

Many, many readers slobber food stains or spill crumbs on the pages, which lowers resell value, hastens decomposition of the paper and encourages insects and bacteria to take up residence. Not to mention it's kind of icky for the next reader to find a collection of stains in the book. Jam, peanut butter, paté and ketchup stains are especially disgusting.
(OK, I confess, I am guilty of eating while I read, but I have at least learned to keep the book away from the food by using a book-stand, and I never read when I'm eating finger food or soup*).

I have heard of a reader who likes to read paperbacks and tear out each page after he's done and throw it away (shudder).

And don't talk to me about people who smoke while they read: I have checked a book out of the library that turned out to be so poisonous from cigarette fumes that only a gas mask would have enabled me read it.

All of this spells disrespect to me and I don't understand how people can treat books like that.

I also don't understand people who highlight words or write in library books or other books they don't own. I don't generally write in books myself, except sometimes in school books I don't intend to resell, and I would never write in a book that doesn't belong to me, and I always use a pencil when scribbling in my own books.

*There's nothing that teaches that lesson more effectively than having your pet bird land in the soup dish and shower both you and the book with soup. After the soup incident he is not allowed out at mealtimes.


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