My husband was reading a brand-new book with dinner last night and dribbled beet juice across a pristine page. He wasn’t happy. A few cuss words might have been involved. My first thought, which I kept silent, was ‘it’s now our book!’.
What does a well-loved book look like in your space? I promise each new book that comes into our house that I will love and cherish it. I’m careful and respectful the first time I open the cover, being cautious about bending the cover back too far. I try to find something nice for a bookmark. I wipe my hands on my clothes (pages are more important). I don’t dog-ear pages and try not to break the spine.
That lasts until, maybe, the first chapter and I’m immersed in the story and forget the real world. It depends on how far I read before I have to put the book down. The next time open it, anxious to get back into the new story world, the bookmark will have wandered away so a corner of paper towel or a torn envelope, or the cell phone gets used. And of course, in my happiness, I open the book wider, weigh the pages down with the greasy butter dish, and give no thought to the spine.
Our books are read over and over, and if they were dogs, they’d have a great life. They get hauled around. They go on car rides. They go outside. They get table scraps like beets. They get snuggles on the comfy chair by the fire with a blanket. They get undivided attention.
We have some books so well-loved and well-read, and so old, that pages are falling out. My husband has some where whole chapters have gone missing. He has even lost covers. But he’ll still re-read them because he knows what happens in those missing bits. And there’s always the hope that they’ll show back up some day with their own stories about hanging out with lost socks.
I also have books showing their age and looking elderly and fragile. I’ve bought second, and sometimes third, copies of them in order to keep the original from getting worse. I love opening them carefully, tucking the loose pages back inside, and seeing my very young handwriting on the inside cover. Or my sister’s young handwriting. She had a habit of claiming my things.
I see my handwriting and try to remember who that little girl was and what she thought the first time she opened that book. Little did she know all the years of friendship and enjoyment those characters would give her. And she’d never have believed it if someone had told her she’d still be reading the same book when she was that old.
There’s a lot to be said for the new book smell, the pristine pages, the not-cracked spine, the new adventure waiting. There’s a place for that.
But there’s also a very special place for long-time friends that are maybe showing their age but are still willing to whisk you away on an adventure or sit with you and share their story.
Here’s to old friends and well-loved books.