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.


  1. You forgot about my graveyard in the backyard for the books I abuse to the point of illegibility. I refuse to throw those noble warriors in the garbage. They are respectfully buried and their service honored with a twenty-one dog-ear salute.

    Books want to be abused. If you listen carefully, you can hear them sigh with relief as their tense little spines are cracked.

    (It's ferocious readers like myself that make books "rare and collectible." You need me to wreck books. Ha!)

  2. That's a great point...just let me know which ones you are reading and I'll invest in pristine copies of the same books. You're bound to create a scarcity sooner or later. LOL

  3. I love that rearranging the chapters story. Brilliant.

    I honestly can't top that but I guess I could still be called a book abuser. I keep very few books after having read it so I don't give a whole lot of thought to its post-read quality. I do however, donate most to the local library so I don't go out of my way to destroy them either. That said, I once read a biography of the Boston Strangler that wasn't that great and was an old paperback, in rough shape to begin with- so as I read it, instead of using a book mark I simply ripped the last page out and threw it away as I worked my way through.

  4. I know who she is and, though I'd trust her with most anything, she's not touching my library!

  5. Sam, Hurry up and buy "This Is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel J. Levitin. I have read to death two copies and I'm killing my third copy.

    From the book:
    "The lowest note on a standard piano vibrates with a frequency of 27.5 Hz. This is about the same rate of motion that constitutes an important threshold in visual perception. A sequence of still slides displayed at or about this same rate is percieved as smooth and continous motion when in fact there is no such thing being shown. Only when molecules vibrate at that very same rate do we begin to percieve a continuous tone."

    He also argues that music is an evolutionary adaptation. It's something that men developed as a way to demonstrate reproductive fitness. It's wild stuff.

  6. That's probably smart, Anne, because who knows what might happen when you turn your back.