True Confessions: I Crease the Spines of My Books

Some people open a novel just far enough to read it. They would never bend back the wings of a hardcover book until the glue in the binding crunches. Nor would they ever permit deep vertical creases to mar the spines of paperbacks on their shelves. I get it. Books are works of art. To purists, bending back covers is akin to taking a Depression glass plate and purposely chipping off a shard from its rim.

Warning to purists: when I read, I’ve been known to open a novel until it can lie flat on a table like a placemat. At minimum, I bend the cover back until I can comfortably hold it in one hand and read while in bed or while lounging by the pool. And no, I don’t fuss with bookmarks when dog-eared corners will do.

I also write in my books. (Gasp.) I keep a mechanical pencil clipped to the top edge of a hardbound book’s jacket, so it’s handy when I need it. The edges of my trade paperback covers are frayed and cottony from fastening and unfastening my pencil for three hundred pages. I study the craft of writing fiction, so I underscore first lines that hooked me on page one. I mark lyrical sentences and beautiful sensory details. I note passages with tension and twists and character change.

To me, the works of art that line my bookcases are keepsakes from where I’ve been. A book represents an interactive experience I’ve had—be it for learning or be it an escape—an experience that evokes memories like photos in an album I keep from a trip.

Last weekend, I read—correction, I was enthralled by—Christina Baker Kline’s A PIECE OF THE WORLD.

Like her wildly popular ORPHAN TRAIN, her latest novel alternates between the past and the present. Blending fact and fiction, the book is about Christina Olson, the figure in a famous painting with a New England farmhouse and a field of gold. In the story, the main character is a friend of artist Andrew Wyeth and observes this about him:

All the things that most people fret about, Andy likes. The scratches made by the dog on the blue shed door. The cracks in the white teapot. The frayed lace curtains and the cobwebbed glass in the windows…. There’s more grandeur in the bleached bones of a storm-rubbed house, he declares, than in drab tidiness.

Aren’t the words of the last sentence true for a well-worn, well-loved, hard-read book?

Purists might argue that books are meant to last beyond the life of the reader. I agree; that’s one of the things I love most about books. Yet, when I’m gone, no one will find first editions in mint condition for collectors, nor pristine tomes bearing the faint scent of old ink presses. They will find books that compare more to my Barbie from 1963, a doll with torn fingers from so much fun play—not a cold Barbie preserved in the original box that was bought from the store.

They will find books that show a smudge of chocolate or drops of red wine on page 232. They will find smiley faces by paragraphs and know that in that moment, I laughed. They will see annotations such as “Oh!” by a scene that surprised me or “Tears!” where I cried.

They will find books that were a part of my life and discover more about me.

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