Monday, 14 March 2011

How to Read and Handle a Book

Sunday was a relative slow, relaxing day.
I spent most of the morning reading the big tome on my bedside table, Beyond Black, by talented Hilary Mantel. 
Synopsis and review HERE

A quite entertaining book, which I'm reading extremely slowly, savouring every word and page...why, between proofreading and various evening events, I'm always so busy! 
I also took the chance to dive into my new Lonely Planet guide to Greece, since the man and I have decided to spend 12 wonderful days in Santorini, in August. Since I'm definitely not your conventional tourist, I need to know well in advance where and when I want to go once I'm there.
Don't expect me to lay on the beach all day long. I won't. I need to run around, exploring, visiting museums, and tasting local food...and, ahem, wine.

Anyway, all this long introduction to write about something that really fascinates me: how people read and handle books.
Sometimes I think I have a very peculiar way to read and treat my books. I use them, mistreat them, rape them. Whenever I start a book, especially if it's brand new and, you know, rigid, I tend to open it up to the maximum, so much so that the spine creases in a million tiny wrinkles. Hard back, paperback, doesn't matter, I'm going to f*ck it up for good. That's why nobody borrows my books, ever.
I want to be able to spread each and every page. I hate words that disappear near the binding.
So after the first minute into the handling, my book is impossibly ruined. I tend to do the same with second-hand books. I cannot believe the state of some of these volumes! It almost scares me that some people handle their books with gloves, making sure they look like new. Brrr.
Another of my guilty pleasures when it comes to books, is the folding of the upper part of the page to keep track of my reading, or stuff that I'm interested into, like quotes and interesting locations. At the end of each reading session there are so many folded pages that I wouldn't have a clue about what's going on, where I am and why I made that mess. Dog-ears different in size, everywhere in the page. On the side, at the top and at the bottom. Just to make sure I remember what I wanted to. It never works, but I'm proud of actually using my books! They shouldn't be treated like the good tea set you're afraid of breaking and therefore never use.

I found this lovely poem by an unknown author, it's called The Folded Page and it goes like this:

"Up in an old attic,
as the raindrops patter down,
I sat paging through an old schoolbook --
Dusty, tattered, and brown.
"I came to a page that was folded down.
And across it was written in a childish hand:
"The teacher says to leave this for now,
'Tis hard to understand."
I unfolded the page and read.
Then I nodded my head and said,
'The teacher was right; now I understand.'
'There are lots of pages in the book of life
That are hard to understand.
All we can do is fold them down and write:
"There are lots of pages in the book of life
that are hard to understand.
All we can do is fold them down and write:
'The teacher says to leave this for now,
'Tis hard to understand."
"Then someday -- maybe only in heaven --
We will unfold the pages again,
Read them, and say,
"The teacher was right; now I understand.'"
When it comes to the death of a loved one --
Though complicated and less than perfect,
About all we can do is fold down the page and write,
"The teacher says to leave this for now,
'Tis hard to understand."

This could easily open a debate about digital products and their likeness to take over the publishing world. I won't go on and say that digital is the devil and we should all call an exorcist and stick to the holy printed page, especially because I'm a gadget freak. But there are some things that a digital product doesn't allow you to do. You can't fold a kindle, you can spread it wide open and smell it - although some people came out with this hilarious scents for your Kindle!
You can't stain its pages with the food you're eating, and when you go back remember how good that chocolate cake went with that specific chapter! 
I think that books still are the best and most enhanced publishing products, just because the reader fills them up with their memories, scents, stains, references. There's nothing more personal than that! 

Finally, I'm going to reveal my worst habit, ever. I tend to abandon books, indiscriminately, at 5 pages or so from the end. Usually the plot ends in the final chapter, and more likely in the first few pages of it. I have no interest for epilogues. The same thing applies to films I'm watching and songs I'm listening. I think that at that point I know what I need to know in order to find closure, and I also suspect that most authors are so tired of working on their book that they just write down whatever they feel like without revising it. I know I would. And I also noticed that very often the ending is disappointing and nowhere near the interesting style experienced throughout the book. 

But that's just me. I'm crazy.

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