Every time I showed my friend a book I was reading he would wince over the page I had folded over. He’d hold the book in his hand gently as if it were a rare treasure, carefully flip through its pages until a look of horror crossed his face as he met my bent page, calling it a sacrilege. I’d get his worst how-could-you-possibly-do-this silent note of criticism, a shake of disapproval, and I’d find myself stumbling over an inadequate response, at a loss in defending my method.
There are worse things! Books once were rare treasures, printed at great cost, and owned only by the rich. But now, they’re cheap, sold for as little a penny on Amazon, where I’ve spent up to $2,000 a year just on books, most of them used. That’s a lot of books at a penny each. Granted, I didn’t pay a penny for all of the books, but I always buy books cheap. I like owning them, writing in them, underlining passages and putting an exclamation point next to them, reacting to them, and most of all reading them. I take them with me everywhere I go, always having one stuffed in my purse, ready to read when caught in a line or a room, waiting.
My friend thinks that because I’m a high school English teacher, I should know better than to bend a page in a book. What a terrible example I am to the students.
But it’s the content I revere—not the paper, not the physical aspect of said book. I love annotating them, and teach how to annotate to my students, usually frustrated because the students don’t own the books and have to be careful with them because next year’s students have to use them. So they are forced to use sticky notes and write on the notes. Or double-entry journals, where they must write out the passage on one half of the page, careful to include the page number, then write their reaction to the passage on the other half of the page.
To me, bending a page in a book is akin to an editor pouring red ink over a manuscript. Manuscripts are not sacred. Nor are books—except for one. It means the editor is involved with the manuscript and is truly interacting with the author. When I bend a page in a book, I’m having a conversation with the author, not thinking about denigrating the physical aspect of a book. How many books are read by more than one person nowadays?
It’s true that in a high school, books pass from one class to another and can be read by up to ten classes before they’re so chewed up, new ones have to be bought. But the average book? It’s lucky to be read by even one person. So many books sit in warehouses, unbought. (I know—I’ve had books I’ve written sitting in a warehouse because nobody ordered them. Now that’s painful.) So many books are ordered by a library, and sit on shelves unread.
If a book had feelings, I would think it would love to be held by a person, have its leaves turned, and even have a corner of a page bent. Somebody is paying attention to it. Somebody cares enough about it to bend a page because the reader intends to come back and pick up from where she left off. I like leaving my mark on a book. This book knows it’s been read by me.