CRUELTY TO BOOKS
by Alison Brodie
I love books more than anything … but after reading this you, dear reader, are going to think I am telling a porkie pie.
Have you heard of the RSPB – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds? Well, if there was an RSPN (Royal Society for the Protection of Novels) I would be in front of a judge and jury tomorrow.
Right. I am going to admit it, even though all you book lovers will hate me.
I am cruel to books.
I snap their spines (usually by accident, cos I’m eager to see the pages better). I don’t stack them neatly on the shelves (What shelves? I don’t have any shelves left). I pile books in teetering towers in corners, on the floor by the loo, on window sills, and by my bed.
You know that piece of art by Tracey Emin called “My Bed” which is basically her unmade bed. Well, you should see MY bed. Forget the fag ash, empty gin bottles and condoms. I have books, books, and more books.
I also dog-ear. OMG! I know it’s terrible.
But in my defense, I never get rid of a book I love, in fact, I never get rid of a book. Even when Hubby is on a book purge, I hide my books further into the recesses, on top of cupboards, under the floorboards (it’s like I’m hiding dissidents from the Stasi secret police).
I buy loads of books from Amazon Kindle (Kindle is amazing! You have an urge for a book and seconds later … ping! … it’s there!). And I have hundreds of second-hand books; from Somerset Maugham to Sue Townsend to Zola to Flann O’Brien. I buy them on eBay. Most of them are dog-eared and bashed about (BEFORE they got to me) but I don’t mind; it gives them character.
I have 84 Charing Cross Road (1971) which looks as if it’s swam the Atlantic.
I have a paperback that I bought second-hand in Athens almost two decades ago and I have read it so often it has fallen apart, so I keep it in a Ziplock. The book is called The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard. And I still keep reading it, even though it’s no longer a book but a pile of loose-leaf paper.
I don’t need a pristine, untouched book to enjoy it. Quite the opposite. I like seeing the previous owner’s name on the inside page, for example:
I have a 1964 paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird with the inscription: “Jonathan T. Armstrong, 6 Shannon Court, Dynevor Rd, London N.16.”
A small hardback copy of Wind in the Willows with the drunken scrawl: “With all good wishes, From Winifred, Christmas 1952”
And inside Nicholas Nickleby a school certificate award to Caroline Oldroyd for Best in English, 1967.
And there are books with library stickers still in them, one from Nova Scotia, one from Brisbane, one from St George Library Center, New York.
It makes me think: Where have these books been? What have they seen? Who owned them?
One memorable notation is in a copy of Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier: “To Sara. I will never forget you. J. 1959.” Who wrote THAT? Obviously a man. Why didn’t he add his name? “I will never forget you” surely means he is going away and will never see her again?
Ahh … Your books can tell you so much, but no more …
Although, if they could tell me anything they would say: “Stop dog-earing us!”