Turning Corners, Breaking Spines: Confess Your Reading Rituals

Alison Morris -- May 13th, 2008

When I was reading last week and silently comparing my own reading behaviors to those of others in my family it occurred to me that I’m unnecessarily kind to my ARC’s while reading them. I try not to break their lovely little spines, unless I’m trapped somewhere without a makeshift bookmark. I don’t turn down the corners of their pristine pages, and I try to keep from dripping, spilling, or leaving anything on them, greasy fingerprints included. (Unless I hate the book in question, in which case all bets are off.) I generally give finished books the same white glove treatment, though honestly? I don’t know why this is. It gives me great pleasure to see books on others’ bookshelves that look truly LOVED, their cracked spines and dog-eared pages sporting the evidence of pages that have been more just "perused." I don’t think of myself as being overly concerned with neatness and I don’t care if other people borrow my books and return them bruised — I just prefer not to do the bruising myself.

It would make sense to conclude that these "preserve the dust jacket"-type behaviors have evolved from my life as a bookseller, but looking back I think I’ve always been this way. Was I destined, then, for a life of schlepping new books rather than those of the used or oft-loaned variety? Hmm… I haven’t the foggiest.

Another curious reading behavior of mine: When we get multiple copies of an ARC at the store and they get passed around among our booksellers, I ultimately want the copy that comes back to me for keeps to be the same copy that I read personally. I don’t care if other people read that ARC after me, and I don’t even care if it’s in a miserable, bedraggled condition compared to the others in circulation — I still want the copy I own to be the copy I read. Period. Will I pitch a hissy fit if that doesn’t happen? No. Will I usually even KNOW that the ARC you’re giving me isn’t the very same one that I read? No. Of course not. (Because I won’t mark my name in it — see previous neatness concerns.) But ideally if an ARC or a finished book is going to take up residence in my home library, I prefer to have actually read IT, meaning THAT VERY COPY, for some weirdly sentimental reason, I guess.

What about you — are you a neat reader or a book bruiser? And have you got any theories as to WHY that is? Do you have any other odd or intriguing reading habits to confess? Any conditions that need to be in place in order for you to start reading a book? Maybe a unique reading ritual? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Have a seat on this here couch and tell your fellow readers about them.

30 thoughts on “Turning Corners, Breaking Spines: Confess Your Reading Rituals

  1. brita

    This post reminds me of the essay in Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris about how readers treat their books. It’s always been one of my favorites. I get very defensive when someone (well, let’s be specific: my sister) accuses me of not really loving my books just because I refuse to break their spines…

  2. Ric

    Like everyone above I love books and have a huge library. Two in fact, one at home and one at work. But my books are for reading and gaining knowledge so I high light, bookmark with stickers and write in them. But I never turn the corners down, I always use a bookmark. I think that is the respectful way to show a book you appreciate it.

  3. Lauri

    I grew up in a family that went to the library twice a week. We lived for birthdays and Christmas when we would get books of our own. We didn’t have much money to spend on books and we learned early to respect them, to treat them gently, and how to open new ones so the spines don’t crack. All of this is still very important to me. I buy a lot of reference books and I want them to remain pristine. I no longer lend books after having several very expensive books come back with torn covers, folded or ripped pages, and the spines all a-glee. But since we were all maniacal readers, many a Christmas Eve was spent in our solitary rooms trying to finish the book that would be a sibling’s gift the next morning. We would read it so carefully, making sure it still looked unopened by human hands. The real prize was to get a book that someone had not before you.

  4. Editrix

    One of my favorite finds was a jacketless hardcover of The Island of Lost Maps that I picked up used. Someone had spilled wax all over the front cover, and it had the eeriest appearance. (I know that book had its own story to tell. A romantic evening? A blackout? A cult ritual?) I guess I believe books are just the vessels for the spirit inside them–the writing, the characters, the story. I’m a sucker for great packaging, but I’ll read a book in any form, mint or tattered, paper or electronic.

  5. Bethany Eyrich

    I try to take excellent care of my books, but after about 15 readings, one of my Madeleine L’Engle books was falling apart. I loaned it to a friend and watched horrified as she casually pulled the tattered cover off the (paperback) book and tossed it aside. I now have a copy I loan out and keep my lovely tattered one for myself. I buy most of my books used and though I personally cringe at the thought of writing in them or damaging them in anyway, I love to see the journey a book has taken before reaching me. Messages of love from caring friends and family to a previous owner make me feel a connection to the people who have loved the book before me.

  6. Anonymous for Obvious Reasons

    Am I the only one who flinches when watching someone take a library book into the bathroom? HORRORS!!!! It’s bad enough that you’d take a book you own in there, although I can understand and forgive that…if you must. But a LIBRARY BOOK?! Those poor, unsuspecting patrons! It should be against the law to take a library book into the bathroom. Cell phones too, but that’s a subject for another day.

  7. Julie Prince

    I still have the same copy of Anne Frank that I read in middle school. I will never forgive the teacher who MADE me lend my copy to a classmate (because I’d already finished reading it and the other student hadn’t bothered to get a copy for herself). My poor Anne came back warped, creased, and discolored. I literally cried. The other girl thought I was a freak! I don’t mind obtaining books that are already in rough condition, though. Sort of like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I want to bring it home and make it feel loved. 🙂 I will turn the book slightly as I read each page, to avoid opening it all the way. A strange habit, given that I love the sound of a picture book “cracking” open for the first time. I just don’t want to crease that spine. When a book has a dust jacket, I either take the jacket off while I’m reading it, or I lift it slightly when I’m resting the book on a surface, so that it doesn’t wrinkle or crease. I massage smudges and fingerprints off its surface. I hug my books, smell them, and run my fingers along the covers. I love the variety of textures available in everything from the jackets to the actual covers under them to the pages…rough, smooth, glossy, matte. I don’t care! I love them all! The first thing I do when I get a new book is peek under its little jacket–maybe I AM a freak.

  8. glancour

    If it’s a book I love, I must have the actual copy I read. I like to think I absorbed the book, not just with my mind, but with my hands so it’s part of me in a physical way. I’m a weirdo. I don’t dog ear the pages, but cracking the spine is okay in my book, pun intended.

  9. Kay Mitchell

    I am not a particularly neat reader. I break spines as soon as I get to that point in a book and I dog ear pages all the time. But only on my own books. I refuse to dog ear someone else’s book, even if it has been done before. But I love to reread my own books and see where I have dog-earred pages in previous reads, it’s like unexpectedly bumping into a good friend.

  10. Kellie Olsen

    I’m a messy person by nature, so it wouldn’t be possible for me to be to neat with my books. I accidentally bend them, spill coffee or juice on them… Lots of stuff happens when I read, and if I paid enough attention to not mess them up, then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the books as much. But I can’t believe I’m the first person to mention water damage! I love to read in the tub, and as a result, many of my books’ pages are rippled and unsmooth from getting wet.

  11. Kat Brokaw

    I would put myself in between. If the words are too close to the spine to read comfortably, the spine must give a little. But I never ever dog-ear–I use my own business cards as markers… or sticky notes that have lost their sticky and/or relevance. And I’d say a good third of my reading is borrowed (from library or friend) or purchased used. If I limited myself to only what I could afford, I would not be able to read as much. Of course, with the recent inflation, I’m actually thinking about getting a second (third?) job at a bookstore just to continue to support my habit.

  12. Chris

    Most everything about me is neat so no surprise… I do not fold down pages. That being said, I do enjoy reading a book that has been “loved”. If the book is a favorite, I want that copy back. A friend once lost a book I’d had since eighth grade (a really long time ago). Though she replaced it and I was gracious (of course), I was devastated. It just wasn’t the same!

  13. luvbks

    And one other thing – I can’t start a new book within 24 hours of finishing a book I loved. I find that no matter how good the next book is, it pales in comparison if started too soon after a book that, for any reason, touched me deeply.

  14. luvbks

    I will never dog ear pages. I find the “fake” credit cards that come in junk mail make perfect, and perfectly disposable book marks. Use them and lose them with no guilt. Beyond the no dog ear rule, I am one that truly loves my books to death. And like so many others, I want MY book, not another copy.

  15. Annie

    I really like to keep all my books looking new, and I’ve cried out before to see others take a new book and immediately bend it back to crack the spine. I also barely open the book (if it’s paperback) to keep it looking new, which is hard, so I love reading library books. The pressure is off. I try to keep them nice, too, but at least I can open them all the way.

  16. J.M. Daggett

    I’m a neat reader, I don’t break the spine (or try not to) and I don’t dogear it, though I’m famous in my family for leaving chocolate thumb prints on the pages because I’m usually eating chocolate while reading.

  17. Lisa

    I too am a neat reader. I try to keep my books in as perfect order as possible. I love the look of a well worn book, but for some reason I feel terrible if I am the one to make the book look that way. Perhaps for the same reasons as Jeannie-raised with few purchased books and those had to be shared between siblings as well as borrowing many from the local library. What I have discovered as of late about my reading rituals, is that my father has a similar feeling about his books and I have noticed my eight year old following in our footsteps – no dog-eared corners or torn dust jackets. Is it nature or nurture that has lead to these similarities, I am not sure, I am just happy we share a love of books.

  18. Carter Hasegawa

    Your wanting YOUR ARC back reminds me of “Knuffle Bunny Too.” I can just see you looking over your books at home, picking up an ARC and thumbing through your pages – then panic sets in as you realize someone else has your ARC. I tend to be pretty careful with my books. I joke with my friends that if I ever have kids, I’m going to have all these books that are written for them, but they’re not allowed to touch. It’s library copies for them (with a few of their own thrown in).

  19. LAURA CIPOREN

    I dog-ear pages, underline stuff, scribble all over the page, even keep score if I’m reading at a Little League game. ARCs have totally spoiled me. I would never commit any of these sins against a hardcover book but I just love love love to write all over an arc. And it’s not like I toss them after I’m finished. Oh, no. Never. (Well, once or twice including once very recently) I pass them on to kids and friends who then call me and want to know why I wrote “dryer” on p. 41. Um, that was to remind myself to put the clothes in the dryer when I got home.

  20. Phoebe

    Interesting . . . I try not to be a spine breaker but my favorite thing is to read other people’s books that already have broken spines, or library books. I like thinking about other people who have read that same physical book that I’m reading, and I love imagining them thinking the same thoughts about the book that I am thinking. It makes it somehow better when it is the same physical book! I don’t really like owning a lot of books so the huge majority of what I’ve read, I don’t own. I don’t deliberately try to throw my books around but I like getting used books so they are a little “preworn” and I don’t have to worry about keeping them nice!

  21. Becky LeJeune

    I am a neat reader – I like my books to look brand new. I figure if I take care of them they will last longer and since I got my start borrowing from my grandmother, I want mine to be around for someone to borrow them years from now.

  22. Jeannie

    When we first met my husband laughed as he saw me reading a book barely opened so I wouldn’t ruin the spine. I don’t write in books, and should I bend a page I’ll later regret it. I love books. Having been raised with few purchased books, the majority of my reading happened thanks to the local library. Between being enamored with books, I had a great deal of respect for the library. The husband now admonishes me if he thinks I’m bending the spine open too far. lol

  23. heather

    I am a spine breaker, much to the dismay of both my dad and my husband. I usually don’t fold the corners, but will if I have absolutely nothing to stick in there (sometimes I will just try to remember what page I’m on instead of dog-earing). I do, almost always, read the last line of the book when I get to the the middle of a book. It never really gives anything away, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Never more than the absolute last line, though.

  24. ShelfTalker

    Oh, Tish, a STRAY HAIR?? That is just priceless!! I daresay my devotion to neatness has never driven me to quite those lengths, but now that you’ve given me the idea… Too funny!

  25. J.W.

    I always read the acknowledgments/author notes and the copyright page before I start the book. You learn of some interesting connections that way. And even though most of what I read comes from the library, I still tend not to break the spine on a new book (unless the binding is really stiff) and I never turn down page corners, no matter how old or used the book is. I have been given a lot of beautiful bookmarks over the years, but find what I use most often is a post-it; or, right now, the edge of the Lunar New Year stamp panel, because I like the designs.

  26. Tish Cohen

    Alison – I do understand your insistence that the ARC you read be the one you keep on your bookshelves. To have the book you developed this personal relationship with swapped out for another one that only looks the same would be something like loving one twin and suddenly being expected to fall for his brother. Sort of. (don’t analyze that theory too closely – it will fall apart under scrutiny) I never seem to have a bookmark, so I do turn down page corners. But I suffer enormous guilt while doing so and have marked my place with a stray hair to avoid it.

  27. Rory Flynn

    I break the spine (both paper and cloth), get rid of the dust cover(while reading. I returnit after I’m done), spill coffee, food, etc (not on purpose)and b/c of this the book and I develop a relationship of shared experiences.

  28. teacherninja

    Neat, but oddly never really cared about dust covers. I usually just think of them as advertising and pull them off my hardbacks. And, like you, I like loved books. I often buy used books and have no problem with libraries (my wife will only read new books). We readers are a strange tribe…

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