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Monday, March 05, 2007

Book Abuse

I saw an article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review yesterday that reminded me of a habit that I find to be relatively rare among those of us who consider ourselves to be “heavy” readers. If the habit were not rare, I doubt that the article would have had any interest to the editors of that review in the first place. Author Ben Schott seems to take great pleasure in detailing his pride in being a “book abuser” and relishes the thought that each of the abuses he lists in his essay probably makes the average book lover reflexively cringe in disgust. The various abuses that Schott lists in his humorous essay are relatively benign ones (and he limits them to mass produced books, generally cheap paperbacks from the sound of it): cracking a book’s spine by leaving it open face down for long periods of time, dog-earing pages to mark his place or so that he can reread them later, writing comments or doodling in books and marking “significant passages” in books (although he draws the line at using highlighters for some strange reason of his own).

Well, I have news for Mr. Schott. Compared to one good friend of mine, his level of book abuse ranks him as amateurish, at most. The fact that this friend is a former librarian makes her level of book abuse even more astonishing (or maybe not since I don’t know any other librarians personally). Here’s one example of something that she’s done more than once. Both of us, at about the same time, read the 2002 biography of the Carter Family, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music. Now, I will admit that the book was a bit frustrating at times because of the order in which the history was told. Sometimes it was hard to place the details from a previous chapter with what was being covered in a later chapter. Fair enough.

I coped with that problem the way that most of us would by flipping back to what I had previously read in order to prepare myself for the new chapter. My friend took a different approach, one that is stunning in its simplicity (and in its effectiveness, I admit). She removed the cover of the book, took it completely apart and rearranged the chapters in the order that more suited a telling of the Carter Family story in a straight line narrative. Mr. Schott, until your book abuse reaches that level of creativity and nonchalance, you are still in the minor leagues of book abuse.

I have to share one more of my anonymous friend’s creative habits although it doesn’t really qualify as one of book abuse. She is a very, very good researcher and has come up with a unique way to keep track of the links that she discovers to whatever topic is in question. She builds her own “bookshelf web” by placing pieces of string from book-to-book on her shelves as she finds information regarding her research topic in various places. The string enables to reconstruct what she’s found in a logical fashion without having to look for the various bits of information all over again. It’s her version of the internet without a computer. How brilliant is that?

In order to protect the guilty, I won’t give any clues as to the identity of my creatively abusive friend. But if she sees this, I want her to know that I still trust her in my library…I think.
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