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Tuesday, 02 July 2019


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"It's not for looking at."

Then, honestly, what's it for?

["Honoring." That's the first word that came to mind when I read your question. —Mike.]

Wear and tear is an inevitable part of loving and using a book. However, I've developed the skill to read a 50-year-old paperback dozens of times without the binding falling off; when I see a hardcover with the binding failing, I figure it was either a defective copy, or has been terribly abused. I don't like people who abuse books. (So, maybe that counts as a piece of the wrath you're expecting?)

I do have multiple copies of most of my favorite books; I read ebooks by preference, then mass-market paperbacks, then whatever I have. But when I have say the 1950s first-edition hardcover of something, or a modern super-fancy edition, I've generally read that copy at least once -- very carefully.

CS Lewis said that the only books in your library in heaven will be those that people borrowed and never returned. Also any stains (from the merlot?) and fingerprints will be illuminated in gold like a medieval manuscript.

Speaking as a book lover and an ex-hobbyist bookbinder, there is a right way to open new hard-cover (sewn) books. It will help prevent cracking of the spine, and keep the book opening smoothly through its life.

Start with the new book closed, and the back facing down on a table. Open (say) the rear cover gently to the table top. Then separate a bundle of pages, less than a signature for a really nice book. Run a finger or two down the gutter gently to open them down to the rear cover.

Repeat at the front of the book. Then keep opening small bunches of pages the same way, alternating rear and front of the book, until all the pages have been handled. Now you are ready to read or browse through the book.

This won't work well if you have a pseudo-hard cover book, one that has been perfect bound rather than sewn. More and more books are like that, sad to say.

I’m in favor of using (not abusing) things. I have 95k miles on my 2007 Carrera, much of it from commuting in the NYC area. I have a collection of pretty nice guitars, which I’m happy to have small grandchildren handle (carefully and with supervision). To me, there’s no point having nice things just to own them - the joy comes from using them, and sometimes wearing them out.

I would find it very, very difficult to scribble in a book, maybe impossible, I don’t think I ever have. My schooldays were spent in England during and after after WW2. I read a lot but nearly all the books were from public libraries so there was an expectation that you would leave them as you found them. When I bought books it would have been with money received on my birthday or Christmas, so twice a year, so whether out of habit or ‘honouring’ them I didn’t scribble. I guess I’m saying there’s no simple rule for everyone — is there ever?

Would you have kept using that camera just because "cameras are meant to be used," or would you have tried to preserve the artwork on it?

I think of the joy that Pentax K1000 owner must have experienced during those years of using his Haring-flowered camera. Some art must be ephemeral the more to appreciate what art we do preserve.

Those books can all be repaired, or rebuilt into something new and more beautiful, without too much effort. All around!

What is the right way to honour a book?

Wonderful! Thank you!

I used to think that normal care would prevent significant damage to treasured books. Then reality got in the way. One of my most-loved books is Clyde Aspevig's 2009 monograph of his brilliant landscape paintings, out of print since and now north of $800 used. I tried to be kind to it, really I did. But the dust jacket is now tattered and kept separately to avoid complete destruction. The edges are bumped and a bit worn, and there are some unfortunate coffee stains from a mishap circa 2015. And a sad collection of deodorant flecks decorates the cover from its time on the floor next to my bed. For all that, a fine landscape painter I know was delighted with the temporary loan of the book recently. I'm glad it's well loved.

Personally I think that for something to be used, it can’t be precious. I decided I don’t want to own items that I can’t replace or repair should they be damaged.

I learnt it the hard way when I bought a used Leica. To me it was irreplaceable and I barely dared using it. When I finally brought it with me, the strap got caught somewhere, and the Leica crashed on the floor. Couldn’t afford to repair it for another 6 months. It came back working again, but totally dented and scratched.

After that, the camera was truly mine, and I used it heavily for a decade until I got a digital camera.

Same for books. No valuable, pristine books for me. If I can’t read them because I don’t dare touching them, they’re of no use to me.

I met a man on Monday night who had bought a BSA motorcycle, a 1935 B2. The machine shows its age; it's rusty, the paint is chipped, the tank is dented and was repainted (not very well) at some point.

He isn't going to restore it. Because if he did, the bike's 83 years of history would be wiped away forever. He is going to get the magneto overhauled, and he is going to ride it.

Motorcycles are made to be ridden, not looked at. Well, it's okay to sit and look at your own bike, sitting there with a pint or a mug of tea at your destination after a great ride, or at home after you've been working on it in the evening.

I think unless you can treat a camera badly from time to time (get it muddy, dusty, dirty, damp, cold, chucked in a bag in a hurry, perhaps even dropped in the heat of a moment), then you aren't using it properly. Ish.

I appreciate used books, especially sourced from a library - they possess a certain "je ne sais quoi" quality - almost soulful, if you will. However, I may be exhibiting a form of parapraxis due to my aging mind and body . . .

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