On books as precious objects

One of my most prized possessions is my unabridged copy of The Lord of the Rings, which I received from my uncles for my eleventh birthday. It’s a gorgeous edition, complete with a badass illustration of Gandalf striding across the rainy countryside. It’s also a total beast, clocking in at well over 1000 pages and printed on that very fine material that reminds me of a bible.

via lotrwikia.com

And in lots of ways this book was my bible, and one of the defining touchstones of my teenage years. I read LOTR religiously every year for maybe 5 or 6 years, usually around Christmas. It was my escape when I needed one and it fuelled many a teenage daydream (where I would somehow be transported into Middle Earth and invited to join the Fellowship because I was clever and brave and strong. Oh, and Legolas would fall madly in love with me because of COURSE an immortal elf would be into a chubby, ginger 13 year old).

I tell you all this because I want to be really clear that I loved this book with all of my heart. Even the physical object itself was a kind of talisman. And yet, for all I profess to cherish my copy of LOTR, to the casual observer it probably looks more than a little…neglected. The back fifth of the book eventually fell out from constant use and the pages were sloppily sellotaped back on. At some point in time I spilt water on it, wrinkling the pages, and judging from the level of discolouration on the fore-edge, I definitely left this book out in the sun more than once!

I love books. I love the look and smell and feel of them. I love being able to flip through the pages and I can spend ages staring at covers and maps and artwork. However, if you look at my bookshelves you’ll begin to find a common theme. The more I like a book, the more dishevelled it gets.

In my eyes, book are precious objects but not the kind that need to be kept in pristine condition. The tea stains tell me I was so engrossed that I missed my mouth. The cracked spines prove that I kept on reading even when my arms couldn’t hold the book up any longer and I had to bend it backwards to prop it up. The accordioned pages show where I dropped the book on the ground after I fell asleep reading.

So, to all the people who believe I’m a monster for the laissez-faire way I treat my books*, all I can say in response is this—books are meant to be read and yeah, maybe mine have a little bit more character than most, but that doesn’t make them any less loved. And if you’re ever browsing my library and you ever see a book of mine that looks too-well taken care of, then you can probably skip it since I likely wouldn’t recommend it anyway.

*Massive caveat—of course I am extremely careful with any and all books that are loaned to me by friends and family, so please don’t cut me off just because you now believe I’m a monster!!!

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