Growing up, I feared my father’s frown when I folded book pages corners. Paperbacks were to be covered in paper to protect their covers. So I have always carried with me the feeling that books are something sacred, to be read with the minimum amount of damage, trying to leave no trace of my passage among revered pages. I would instinctually cringe when I saw students highlight passages in their books, or make notes on the borders of the pages. In Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, there is mention of a hiker who would tear the pages she read, to ease the weight of her heavy backpack: I understood the rationale, but I condemned the blasphemy.
But the article “How well do you treat books?” on The Guardian blog put things into perspective. The author, Alison Flood, talks about having a real, strong relationship with her books, books that are so loved that they are revisited, and as a consequence they show the signs: cracked spines, pages falling out. It made me think of my favourite jacket, showing signs of wear, just because unlike other pristine jackets in my wardrobe, I prefer it. So I guess there is such a thing like loving a book so much that you can read it to death. (I can imagine quite a few antiquarians and book collectors scowling when reading this sentence.)
But we need not ponder this dilemma too long: with the Age of the Digital upon us, all e-books will look like new and completely the same no matter how many times we read them. The time will come when we will miss the smell of a musty old book, going through its yellow pages, and caressing the stain left on its cover by a glass of wine.