The Care and Keeping of Books

Literology / Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Daina, age 10, reading to Atticus at 3 months old.

If there were a priest of all things literary, I would owe him a couple confessions.

I read and finished exactly one Nicholas Sparks book before throwing it across the room as hard as I could. It was The Notebook, a movie I’d loved and cried over. I’d braced my mind to be blown because the books are always better than the movies. While it’s possible my bar was set too high, it’s also entirely possible that he wasn’t even trying. I think I said that aloud when I got about halfway through the book, “You’re not even trying, are you?” It was just domino line up after domino line up—a suspense machine. We all have our readerly biases, and my criteria for a good read occurs on the sentence level. Ideally, I want to be falling over myself with jealousy for the perfect order and selection of words. Anyone can follow the recipe for apple pie, but if you haven’t picked the right apples, there is really no reason to bother with the pie. Nicholas Sparks is fantastic at following pie recipes, but he’ll put any apple in them, worms and all.

It would be no surprise to me if Nicholas Sparks loved George Bernard Shaw, playwright of Major Barbara, my most hated book of all time. This leads to my second confession: In my younger, edgier years, I finished Major Barbara and promptly tore out every page, singly crumpled up each one, and threw it into the trash can. It was just terrible. Wish it on no one.

These confessions are my full disclosure in the off chance that any of you knows the stories already and wants to call shenanigans on my argument about the care and keeping of books. These were two extreme examples of my violence against the written word, and for these instances, however deserved, I am sorry.

Here are ten book rules we follow in the Price house. For my autumnal assignment today, Daina selected “skeletons.” Because she said the word, and whenever Daina says anything, books come to mind, my thoughts went straight to spines and the eternal question of “To break or not break?” Here are our thoughts on the subject of spines and a few other things.


Books wear their jackets. Period.

9. e-BOOKS
No e-book purchases to fill in the gaps in hardback collections.  

            Never buy a book with a picture on the cover from the movie adaptation.

Always write in books. Use a fine-tipped ballpoint pen, never a pencil which will fade or a fountain or felt pen that will bleed.

New books must be stored at least one foot off the ground out of Oscar’s “welcome” range. Oscar was our dog who used to christen everything new in our house. Oscar moved to Michigan, but we still kept the rule.

            We’ve found book hoarding to be overlooked by most psychologists as a 
            socially acceptable habit of the literati. And thank God.

No Pinterest crafts that desecrate books for the sake of a half-wit fad may be done in the house. I consider an occasional project with pages of an old, non-literary book acceptable (fanned pages turned into hanging decorations or a L-shaped bracket drilled into an old, non-literary book to create floating bookshelves for less), but my husband cringes at these ideas. They’re quasi-sacred here. We’re like a book sanctuary.

We don’t dog-ear pages. Anything can be a bookmark, so it’s not possible to be without one. My favorite are Taco Bell receipts, but I’ve used gum wrappers and napkins before. Daina dog-ears books on occasion but believes that it’s only acceptable to do so for a two-day period. I asked her what happens after the two-day period, and her response was that “The Lord of Books will come and eat you.”

This is the most impassioned debate in our house. I break in a book by breaking the spine, but this makes my husband and daughter cringe. If I really want to cuddle up with it and get close and personal, I bend it right in two so that I can wrap the front around the back and focus on just one page at a time. Based on this sole act, Daina calls me a “book murderer”—the scariest thing of all.  

But here is our most important rule.


The Price Lending Library is open always. See a book? Take a book. 

We can always buy more. And we will. 

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4 Replies to “The Care and Keeping of Books”

  1. Your rules are spot on. I offer only the following addition, which is also of great importance. Shelve your books carefully to be sure neighbors are compatible. If not, you can end up with Austin and Hemingway side-by-side. (Oh my!!!) When the lovely, talented, and always approachable writer Geraldine Brooks was at my house a few years ago, she took particular delight that I had shelved her works next to Mary Doria Russell, a friend and fellow author she was quite fond of. Ms. Brooks was most grateful not to be housed near a few other possible neighbors who shall forever remain nameless.

  2. OMG! If you break the spine, that and dog earring,it's disrespecting the lovely crisp pages. Ebooks are good for that little bitty font that discourages me despite any interest I may have in the content. Hoarding, now that's what a true book lover does to the chagrin of my husband and other none lovers of books. I lend, but I want my favorites back. I'm just sayin'.

  3. I love that you're mindful of this, too. We have some strange mix-ins in our living room stacks (Jesse Jackson's Shakedown is one of them), and each time I look up on top of our mantle and see them sitting there alongside Zora Neale Hurston and Chinua Achebe, I shudder.

  4. I will say that I definitely have a hierarchy of my books, and there are certainly some that I don't want to open wide, dog ear, or even mark with a pencil. I used to be super protective of all my books, but I started really digging into some of them with markups, and by the time all the pen was in it and all the post its feathered out on all sides, it really was just one more thing to break the spine. On the far end of the spectrum, I do have some books I treasure so much they're not even out for the light to hit them. My signed To Kill a Mockingbird is one and my signed Live or Die by Anne Sexton is another.

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