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Friday, 24 July 2009

Confessions of a Bibliophile #7 - How do you treat your books?

Confessions of a Bibliophile #7
How do you treat your books?

I have noticed that people treat books in many different ways, to write in them or not, to stamp or mark them, breaking the spine and many others. Over the years my habits in this regard have changed often. In this week's article we will examine the pros and cons of some of these habits in a reader.

First, writing in books. This is a habit I tend to do in phases. When I am keeping all my books, or reading a book I am planning on reading a number of times, or if a book is really impacting my life, I tend to underline in the book and write notes in the margins. If it is a book I write in, I use a different color with each consecutive reading.
An example is The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. This book came highly recommended to me my first year here at UWaterloo by Dr. Peter Frick. The first lecture my first term here Peter did a talk on theory of education, and why we are at university. He quoted from his version of this book that was so well worn it was held together with elastics. That first year back in 1998 when I read it, much of it was over my head, specifically some of the philosophy of education. That first year I underlined in red and made notes in the margins. I have since reread the book 3 more times and each time I have understood more of the book, and used a different color for my notes and underlining. For a while I was underlining in every book I read, but as I started selling more and more of my books, I realized that you get significantly less money for books that are marked up, or they will not be purchased at all. So I started writing only in school books, or really meaningful or life-changing books. I also always underline with a ruler so it will be neat.

The second thing I do, in part because I have a lending library, is stamp my name on the spines of my books. I currently have 56 books lent out. By having my name on the spines, if it sits on someone else's shelf for a while, someone will see the name and say 'Hey you have Steven's book here'. I now get about 85% of the books I lend out back. Before I started this, I averaged around 40%. I previously put bookplates on the inside of the book, but the stamp on the spine was recommended by a professor back at Queen's and it resulted in a lot fewer books having to be repurchased.

Taking care of your books. I am pretty meticulous about how I treat my books. I have some paperbacks I have read 3 or more times and still have not broken the spines. When buying used books I will not purchase them if the spine is broken. I also take dust covers off of hard covers when I read them in order to prevent them from being torn or damaged while in my backpack.

When reading, I use cue cards as bookmarks. I write down notes for reviews on the cards. Also any words that I do not know I write down and look up their meanings. My record was a Michael W. Higgins Book. I filled 3 large cue cards, 1 word per line, while reading his book Heretic Blood. Most of the words were either old English or old French words.

So how do you treat your books? Drop me a line and share your habits and strategies. There is a story I heard years ago, I do not know if it is true or not. However, a guy notices that his neighbor has cleaned out his garage, and can now park both cars in it. Previously the doors barely closed because of all the old stuff. The neighbor asked 'Did you find anything worthwhile?' The guy responds, 'Not really; there was this old bible from Guttenberg. But some guy named Luther had written all over it so I threw it out.' And as always you never know what you will find between the covers and whom it might be from.

(First published in Imprint 2009-07-24.)

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