Friday, September 21, 2007

On sharing

I've tried to love second-hand books. I really have. But it's a relationship fraught with crumbs.

It's not that I have no experience of pre-loved books. In the days before op-shopping was trendy, my mum was the mistress of the bargain. Of course, they were also the days when one could still pick up cashmere jumpers for 50 cents and desginer boots for a dollar. Novels were usually 10 cents each, so she'd come home with 10 at a time.

But only if they were clean.

I've inherited this fastidiousness when it comes to books. I just can't help it. Every time I think, "I really should get over this silly prejudice of mine," and start to browse in the book stall in the Central Market, I find a book that I want. Out of Africa, for instance, or A Passage to India. "Hmm, the cover looks OK," I think, eyeing off the $2 price tag. Bargain!

But invariably I open it and find preserved between its pages
(a) a slice of bacon;
(b) a large, fleshy, very flat moth; or
(c) crumbs.

I have no problem with using heavy books to press flowers. After all, it was the only thing I used the family Bible for when I was a kid. But I can only presume that the previous owners of these volumes had no bookmarks, no fly swats, a shortage of plates or all of the above. Hey presto, I drop the book back on the pile and wipe my hands on my jeans. Ford knows what else is on them!

Yes, I probably am a little OCD. I know. It's just that I like to read in bed and my bed is my temple. I don't even like to take library books into it.

And yes, I'm one of those people who goes into small fits of apoplexy over those dirty bastards who take communal newspapers into the toilet. After all, at some point, they have to put it on a potentially pee-besmirched floor. And if they aren't putting them down, then that's even worse.

About five years ago, before I was a half-hearted hack, I had a boss whom I hated even more than celery. Let's call him Boofhead, because he was. One of my daily jobs was the office media monitoring, clipping relevant stories from the newspapers to put into a folder for future reference. I'd done this peacefully for some years with my old boss, but when Boof arrived, the papers suddenly became... distasteful.

He would wander out of his office about 10 every morning, fetch up the paper and head for the men's. Twenty-five minutes later, the door would bang, he would reappear and he'd DROP THE PAPER IN MY IN-TRAY. After a few days of this, I fronted him up and said that if he was going to take the paper into the dunny, he could clip it himself because I would not be touching it. Being a lazy little swine, he had no intention of doing his own clippings, so he refrained ~hallelujah, angels blowing trumpets, etc.~

I'm also a little fussy about who I lend my books to. A uni friend borrowed my copy of Cloud Street some years ago. It was the edition with the nice cover, showing a terrace house. A few weeks later, she said, "Oh, you know your copy of Cloud Street." Er, yes? My current favourite book, you mean? "Yes, that's the one! Well, I dropped it in the bath." You dropped it in the what?! "Yes, it slipped. Anyway, I dried it with the hairdrier and it's almost as good as new. Well, the pages are a bit wavey. But you don't want me to buy you a new copy, do you?" DO I, FUCK! "Oh well, I wanted a copy myself anyway."

So, if you ask to borrow one of my books, you can expect me to ask whether you are a Chewer of Books. Do you dog-ear? Do you break their poor dear backs by leaving them open for days at a time? Do you leave them on the lawn or take them to the tropics? Do you shred dust jackets on hard covered books? Do you allow kittens to sharpen their claws on them? Do you borrow a book and keep it for the better part of a year? Are you, in short, no respecter of the printed word? Because if you aren't, you may get one of my books, but you'll never get a second.

Oh, bugger off. No, I wasn't an only child and I have no problem with sharing unless the sharee is the equivalent of a demolition ball crossed with the Myth Buster boys and a flame-thrower. Books are sacred, damn you!

Unless they're Bryce Courteney, Jackie Collins or VC Andrews. If they're pulp fiction, you can use 'em for barbecue kindling for all I care.


Chesty LaRue said...

Oh I'm so never borrowing one of your books.

Firsty because I dog ear (I tried bookmarks, I'd always close the book without moving them into place, or else they'd fall out in my bag) and crack spines (How else are you meant to make a thick book open properly? I used to try to crack the spine at intervals when I was younger).

Secondly because I don't borrow books. I've posted about this somewhere I can't be bothered finding but my OCD is basically that I don't like reading books other people have read.

Second-hand books. Library books. Other people's books. I'll try - I'll borrow them and put them on my pile and then return them unread a few weeks later. I like old books and old editions of books I've read, but I won't read them - I'll read a nice new edition and just keep the old copy because it looks nice.

And when I'm poor and I can't afford to buy new books, I re-read my old ones rather than go second-hand/library/borrowed. It's wrong, I know.

So, yeah, I totally get where you're coming from.

Chesty LaRue said...

Also, yes, that includes not reading my boyfriend of four years books and not reading books of my OWN that other people read before me - my MIL will randomly pick up books from my to-read pile when she's visiting and start reading them and once she's read them, I just can't.

Sick. I know.

redcap said...

Wow, chesty! Where did that neurosis come from? Did someone borrow one of your books, drop it in the loo, return it and only tell you three weeks later? I guess it boils down to neither of us playing well with others ;)

The Blakkat said...

Wow Chesty & Redcap that's some phobia you've both got going on there! Although understandable to a degree.

Now as much I as like the appearance of a brand new book with its smooth, shiny cover, I would never pass up a secondhand bargain from my local exchange. Especially if it's a book I've been wanting for a while. But while I can do secondhand books, I can't do secondhand clothes. I tend to give op shops a wide berth for this reason. Guess it's the same phobia, but my glee at grabbing a literary bargain outweighs the appearance of the book for me (I just don't think about where it might have been). I especially like 2nd hand books that have an inscription - I don't know, I just like knowing that the book had a history before it came into my possession.

Lonie Polony said...

Ooh, I agree. My family seems to have this bourgeois preference for our own, new copies of books. Which is all very well if one can afford them, but my carefree days of disposable income are long over, so I'm putting off the library (which I don't mind except it's damn difficult to get what you actually want there) by re-reading, right now.

Even when I was 5, I was horrified by my teacher's habit of dog-earing pages instead of using a bookmark. *Shudder*

redcap said...

blakkat, for me, it's enough that writer and his or her thoughts have have a history. The actual paper doesn't need one, especially if 'history' involves coffee spills or grease spots. It's not that I demand a shiny, new cover. Really! It's just that, ag, other people tend to be such dirty bastards!

lonie, dog-earing is akin to Farenheit 451, as far as I'm concerened! I'll deal with marginalia, but folding, tearing, shredding or other means of destructino, NO. As the Cheezburger people say, Do not want!

Though, as I've said before, that does only go for worthy writings. I shredded my copy of House of Hilton with absolutely no compunction. The writer should have been ashamed to produce such tosh. And such ungrammatical tosh, at that!

Ariel said...

I like to keep my books neat, but I'm less of a fetishist than I used to be - now The Husband is the book fetishist in the family. He'll see one of my books face down, pages askew, and cry 'WHY are you doing that to your BOOK?' (It only breaks the spine a little! And I don't do it OFTEN!)

I used to keep books in mint condition, so they didn't even look read, and carry them around in my bags in a paper bag so they wouldn't get damaged. I still pack them with balls of scrunched-up newspaper as packing when I move, so as not to damage them. I also used to work in a bookshop and borrow books, which I didn't have to actually buy if I could return them looking unread. The habit stayed with me.

Ariel said...

I love second-hand books! Food stains would put me off, though ...

gigglewick said...

I've found a new way to avoid dog-earing - if I leave my books on my bed head, they open to a 90 degree angle, which is not quite enough to break the spine and also saves me dog-earing them.

Then all I have to do is convince the flailing boys in my household not to knock them down, and I'm set.

Nai said...

Generally I hate second hand books. Well I say that, but if they are in good nick, I am a forgiving Mistress. For example, my favourite book (as an object) is a second hand, paperback omnibus of the first three Adrian Mole Diaries that I bought at age 16, about 5 weeks after I left the parental nest.
I prefer my books new, but I'll take in a deserving stray (or five) secondhand sepcimens. I actually enjoy reading reading the notes, scribbled, in the margins.
So I guess I don't hate second-hand books now, do I?

actonb said...

I went through a stage of ONLY reading 2nd hand books, but then I realised the niggling smell in my room wasn't a lack of ventilation but shock! horror! my books...

But I'm quite happy to read other people's book. I'm more of a snob about topic and author than the way the paper has ben treated!

phishez_rule said...

I love you! I have the same views on books. The only books that are damaged in my collection (and I don't use that term lightly) are first editions. I hate buying book son ebay. Unless they specify 'as new' or 'never been read,' I don't buy them.

All of my books that are in a series have to have the same cover type. I recently had issues with a bookseller that sent me the wrong cover from what was advertised on the internet. I now have half a series and am looking on ebay for the remaining books.

I don't lend out books. For that matter, when my mum came up and helped me move, I refused to let her even touch the books. She's a smoker.

redcap said...

Heh - I'm glad that some of you are as anal about books as I am! And that the rest of you haven't judged my freakishness :)

Harriet said...

Have to agree with you, Redcap. It's never nice to get a second-hand book and realise that on page 278, someone's left a coffee stain/biscuit crumbs/long strands of hair (ick). And the New Book Smell just isn't there either - which, if you ask me, is one of the best things about buying new novels. :)

Anonymous said...

Howabout opening a "pre-love"/secondhand book and finding a stranger's hair? That's a little bit too much pre-lovin' for me.
Brand new for me please.

Suzer said...

I used to buy all of my books new...and then I moved Down Under, where a book that cost $10 back home cost $40 here. I've now searched out all ways possible to get free and cheap books (bookcrossing, the library at work, the shelf at the hostel, etc). My trip to the local Dymock's this weekend saw me just browsing and making notes of what to look at on once I got home. I just purchased my 1st new book in about 8 months, and am so excited for it to arrive.

R.H. said...

Well I'm astonished, that you people are so squeamish about secondhand things. It's a wonder you can ever leave your homes, or be in the same room with another human being. So how do you ever eat a meal prepared by a chef with bare hands?

Try not to think about it, but everything you have -yourself included- was touched by someone else.

Secondhand books are a joy.

redcap said...

Not with bacon or dead moths in them, they're not, RH.

R.H. said...

Well I know, some folk sneer at anything secondhand, just on principle -and nice upbringing, others aren't bothered at all, too practical. All my clothing is secondhand, I never give it a thought. And a rummage through old books turns up things like 'Stuck', by Michele Turner, long out of print, and superior to new book rubbish. Don't be put off anything by grubbiness, or smell; hygiene is a con: a false god.