Books Are NOT Holy Relics, So Let's Stop Treating Them Like They Are
There's a certain nostalgia that comes out when people talk about books, particularly if they were printed before the nostalgic book nerd was born.
The old school sewn binding, leather bound covers with gold embossed lettering, crackling yellowed pages, the names of previous owners written in scrawling script, and--everyone's favorite--the old book smell.
It's all well and good to have nostalgia for books. The old ones are undeniably historical relics that many find interesting.
But lately I'm seeing the nostalgia come out for print books in general. No one seems to get upset if an e-reader laden with e-books is somehow destroyed, thus leaving the reader without access to his or her collection, but, for some people, you so much as dog ear a page and you've earned yourself a seat in book burner hell.
There's a dark side of book nostalgia. When readers panic when they don't have a bookmark and they're afraid to dog ear the page. When readers are afraid to lend out books, even if they know they'll never read them again, because they fear people will crack the spine. When readers refuse to write in a book even if they find a lovely quote they want to remember. When readers judge others for the condition in which others keep their books.
There's nothing wrong with wanting the preserve your own pristine collection. The problem comes when these attitudes seep into books that the pristine book collector doesn't own, or worse, books that belong to the public.
You wouldn't think there was so much politics around the act of reading, but I can't begin to tell you the number of arguments I've gotten into with people who condemn me for the way I treat my books. Given, I treat my books reasonably well, but like anything that's used, it's going to have signs of wear. And the claws come out vehemently. You'd think that doing things like dog earring pages, writing in books, cracking the spine, and generally using books in the way that best works for you makes book nostalgia snobs think that you're unworthy of reading.
Yet, that's literally what it comes down to. When someone gets in a huff over the way you use your books while reading, it's because they don't think you deserve to be reading based on the way you treat books. In fact, they'd rather you didn't read at all if you're going to "abuse" books.
The fact is that books that are printed today aren't meant to be archival quality. While they're not printed on the cheapest paper, they're not printed on cotton-woven pages either. They're glued together with cheap binding glue, not hand sewn. Sure, they're meant to be read a few times before completely falling apart, but they're not meant to be put up in a museum somewhere for some book historian of the future to poke through.
I'm obviously not advocating that everyone should go about burning books. (Although, if someone bought a book with their own hard earned dollars and they want to spend it by buying books that they'll later burn, that's their business. Books are now mass produced, so it's not like they're really stealing knowledge from anyone, unless they're in a country with extreme censorship, in which case that's really not cool. And obviously, if someone is going to burn books they own, I should hope it's not a first edition or rare book, but again, if they own it, who am I to tell them otherwise?.)
It should go without saying that if you take care of your books, of course they'll last longer. But if you know you're only going to read the book once and either keep it on your shelf for the rest of your life or aimlessly give it away, why should you police your actions with it? It's your property and if you want to write in it, you can. If you want to dog ear pages, you can. Whose business is it but yours?
Here's the bottom line: treating books like they're holy relics prevents access. If not literally, then implicitly. Nostalgia snobs can discourage others from reading or from reading in public, prevent others from loaning books out as they see fit, and generally keeping books locked up for the sake of looking pretty but not at all serving the very purpose they were printed for. Books are meant to be read, so let's read them and not be snooty about it.
The fact is that if books aren't accessible, they aren't any good. Also consider that some items are praised for their usage and better liked because of their well-worn qualities. A favorite pair of jeans, a comfy chair, childhood dolls, soft t-shirts, and musical instruments are all examples of things that are heavily used and loved because of it. If we love the rough-hewn qualities of other things, why not books? If the wear and tear on these other well loved items don't prevent further usage, why not books?
I think book nostalgia snobbery comes down to control, just like any attempt to regulate people's morals or behavior. One group thinks they're better than another because they choose impose arbitrary rules on their own behavior. Then they want others to "hold themselves to the high standard" they've set forth, so they seek to impose control over others.
If it were left to the nostalgia snobs of the book world, we wouldn't have things like libraries and museums because they'd be too worried about what might happen letting so many people access the information. Sure, you're always going to have the loony with the Sharpie in the museum, but is preventing one person's stupidity worth preventing thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people from accessing the information? Is it worth letting the legacy of writers and artists fade into obscurity and turn to dust?
Essentially, I like my books like I like my politics. In short, what you do with your books is no one's business but your own. But don't try to limit others abilities to use their books as they please just because you don't like how they do it.