Books Aren't Precious Relics (Mostly)

The Telegraph is still talking about Pierre Bayard and his How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read (a book I , incidentally, haven’t read) this time in the context of undue reverence for books. We hoard them and fetishize them. We punish ourselves with them. Maybe we should, you know, not do that and just read the things. And failing that, just not read them.

Do you ever start talking to an incredibly boring person at a party and say to yourself, after five minutes: “Well, he’s incredibly boring, but I’ll talk to him for another 30 hours. He’s bound to get better.” Or, when you’ve finished with a newspaper you’ve enjoyed, do you ever put it on a shelf on prominent display so that you can admire it from a distance and never read it again?

No? Well, why do so many people do the same with books? I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met on holiday who are 100 pages into a book, still hoping it’ll warm up.

Some of these same people are then amazed when they see me dog-earing a book, writing in it or, with a really big one, tearing it up into chunks to read on the beach. They’re bored to death by their own reading, but they still think all books should be treated as precious relics.

I’m as guilty as the next guy — OK, far guiltier — when it comes to treating books as precious relics. Surprisingly, though, I’m not afraid to just toss a stinker. I turn into a pragmatic priest when I approach the literary altar — I want results. The good books, now those are worth being precious about.

6 thoughts on “Books Aren't Precious Relics (Mostly)

  1. That boring talker analogy is so apt. I am definitely guilty of giving a book too much benefit of the doubt, but I’m trying to get over it.

    I am finding the same is true of music. If I listen to a clip of music from a favourite artist and don’t like it but buy the CD anyway, surprise surprise, I end up not liking the whole CD. Duh.

  2. Oh, the punishing thing! That goes for even more, too. We punish ourselves with bad books, sure, but I also think people punish others just the same. See: several of my professors throughout the years. I even had a professor say to us once, “this book gets really good 150 pages in, I promise. Keep at it!” There is so much literature out there, why in the world would they admit they’re inflicting subpar work on us instead of finding something they could be totally excited about. I don’t understand forcing excitement when real excitement is just a bookshelf or two away. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS.

    So basically: WORD.

  3. I started reading with library books. The rule of ‘keep it clean, don’t damage it’ made sense, and still does.

    If a book is worth reading, it is worth re-reading. And I likely will re-read it. The hard cover books I buy are usually authors I already like, and usually a series that I enjoy. Before starting the book I fold a Demco Polyfit dustcover protector on (Demco: 800-356-1200). Taking care of the book means it will be easier to re-read next your, or in 10-20 years, and I do have books I bought in 1981, about as good a condition as then.

    Paperbacks I keep with the same care. The stinkers I have been reluctant to discard, since many will become more attractive, or easier to tolerate, later – after I have read some other books, or am in a different mood, or after various life experiences. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes. Hope dies hard. Sue me.

    I also keep track of my books because they don’t stay available. Christopher Stasheff has written a lot of good, humorous books. I particularly like the Starship Troupers stories, beginning with ‘A Company of Stars’. It just isn’t on the shelf at Hastings this week. Pauline Ashely’s ‘Unwillingly to Earth’ and Kathleen Sky’s ‘Witchdame’ are a bit uneven, but have some very good parts. And neither are in the local library. I have re-read both in the last year.

    Following a suggestion by Anne McCaffrey, I don’t tend to lend books. I buy a copy for the giftee. That way I don’t worry if the book is coming back, or if it suffers in condition. Whether this happens to reward the author with royalties for another sale, or is shameless self-promotion I really don’t care, it works for me.

    I have a couple of books signed by the author. I treasure the particular copy of ‘Nerilka’s Story’ that Anne McCaffrey signed, in addition to really enjoying the story. Again and again.

    Since I tend to re-read a book that I enjoy, I do tend to keep the condition as good as possible, Just don’t ask about the books I read in the Navy, that I carried in my back pocket. Love that C.J. Cherryh and ‘Pride of Chanur’.

  4. I’ve given up on giving the books the benefit of the doubt entirely. I say to myself “you’ll probably only live to 80. Do you have time for this?”

    At the same time, however, I rarely get rid of books. I only toss them on to the shelves. Who knows, one day I’ll change my mind.

    Welcome to Upper Fort Stewart, C.R.. WORD, yourself. 😉

  5. Yea, he’s right. When you “respect” your book so much and you’re afraid to really consume it, you only own an ink and pulp, not really a book.

    Be not afraid to write on them.

    Like this!

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