31 January 2014

In Defense of the Cracked Spine


Recently, Book Riot posted about not breaking the spine of a book. Making a case for it, Edd McCracken proclaimed that if one were to break the spine, it would result in that reader immediately being placed into the "I hate them" category. Which gave me pause.

With trepidation, I wandered over to my own bookshelves and looked them over, then turned away, embarrassed. Finally, I looked at my bookshelves, but with a shifty one-eyed glance.

Oh, dear. Based on my bookshelves, it appears I would definitely be one of those hated. From paperbacks to hardcovers, it was easy to see that I had more broken spines than clean ones. (Please note that I would never crack the spine of a book that didn't belong to me. Mr. McCracken and I do agree with this, but I must be honest about my own collection.)

When a new book first comes into my possession, all shiny and sweet-smelling, I admit I experience a twinge of sadness if anything happens that mars it any way. If I place it on the bed and then fall asleep, I will be furious with myself if that act resulted in the paperback falling on the floor at an odd angle, causing the outside of the book to be folded or creased, creating the first blemish. It can be unsettling. I will miserably stare at it, whining to myself, asking how I could have been so careless.

But then I get used to the wrinkle and I start to feel comfortable with it. I don't see it anymore. The book itself becomes its own sustainable character to me and I think about how I love roaming through used bookstores, and how much I love the beat-up look and feel of an aged book. Maybe it's a brand new one or, more likely, it's thirty years old or so, but I love it either way. If I love the book, I'm going to keep it in my collection and it's going to be loved and read over and over again. I'll crack that spine intentionally and I will underline sentences. I'll fold the corner of a page to mark my spot and I will be okay with it.

Books are not delicate flowers. They are pages of imagination, willing to be thrust into the thick of the danger and adventure of treasured and voracious reading just so the reader can absorb each moment, anxiously paging through and living each word. Dog-earing sections, leaving the book open to a chapter on the bed and cracking the spine, is all the mark of an incredible book. If I see someone reading a book in that condition, I make a note to myself to look that book up. Something kept that reader up late at night, and I want to know what it is. Don't you?

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Beautifully said. I use to be so delicate with my books but I too am discovering a freedom and love that comes from cracking into a book. And you're right, when I see a well loved book I know I need to look it up. I have to see what makes it special. Well said. I'm so tweeting this.

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  3. I am very careful with my books. I tote them around in ziplock bags if they are going to hang out in my purse for any length of time. When I give them away to friends, they always look unread. Yes, I am one of those people.

    BUT, if it's a textbook for say....college? All bets are off. I bend, crack, tear, and highlight the hell out of it. So obviously, I categorize them differently. A textbook that is trashed means that student used the hell out of it! Smartness! LOL.

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  4. I don't treat my books well. They get toted aroubd., spine crackalickin, food and drink stains - its a wee bit embarrassing. But the books do get read, and that's the most important thing.

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  5. I am not a spine cracker, but don't have issues with people who are. I love them because they're readers, for heaven's sake!

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  6. I'm not a spine cracker yet I don't have a problem making pencil notes in my books:) does that make me one of the hated ones? LOL

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  7. I'm pretty careful with mine, but I don't freak out if something happens to it. Hey, it's my book, and they are all well-loved! A borrowed book though...I am super protective of those.

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  8. No spine-cracking for me, but I certainly don't have a problem with those who do... unless the book is mine ;-)

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  9. You know, I can understand this argument, but I can't make myself believe it (for my own books). I become very attached to my books, you know? and I want them to last. I want the exact edition that I had when I was eight to last me until I die. That's why I'm careful with them.

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  10. Love that last paragraph! I'm not sure when I got to be such an old fuss budget with my books - I used to dog-ear pages and intentionally "broke in" the spine as soon as I got it. So much easier to read when the book will lie flat!

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  11. I am extremely careful with my books too - I will on occasion dog ear a page (very small dog ear), but I hate seeing cracked spines on my shelf. And I hate writing in my books. Back in college I was REQUIRED to annotate in my English texts as part of my grade and I was unable to handle that. However, if other people want to treat their books differently, that is totally ok with me.

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  12. My books are always pristine. No idea where I picked up that habit, but take paperbacks for example, you see a few lines and they are just page turns away from falling to pieces! Maybe it's an OCD thing....hmm, wonder if Howard Hughes had an issue with books? LOL

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  13. The only time I have EVER been yelled at by my mom was when I accidentally sat on the edge of a book that was lying open. It was very startling and made me think "ok, there are so many worse things I could have done, so I'm going to classify this as ridiculous." I'm not about to intentionally harm a book (though I'm getting more and more comfortable folding the corners of some pages...on some books), but a well-loved book is much more charming than one bought from Barnes & Noble then seemingly never touched.

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  14. I used to be so careful with my books. I despised seeing cracks, creases, etc. On the spines, corners of the cover and pages. But as time drifted by, I also got used to them and they don't bother me any more. Of course, it's different when it wasn't I who inflicted the 'damage' on my books, then I would definitely feel angry about it. But when I am responsible, I don't know, I feel an odd sort of satisfaction and pride when I realized I have cracked the spine for the reason that I read it over and over. My books have cracked spines because of that...and those books whose spines are cracked are the books I cherished, because those very delicate injuries are reminders that these are the books I love to death. A book that has made a solid impression on me. A book that has seen and experienced more than a day, month, year. When I touch their cracked spines, I remember the entire reading experience, and the emotions I felt the time I was reading the story come flooding back to me.
    I also shop at second-hand bookstores because I am a fan of physically ancient books. The cracked spine thing is selective to me. It depends on the reason or cause why it is cracked like that. If it were due to some irresponsible and reckless reading, well, I'll be seething in anger. But if it was due to over-indulging in the book, then, I feel glad for the book. To be used and used.

    Sorry if my English kind of sucks. It isn't my first language. Great post! My shelf is also filled with cracked book spine goodness! Lol.

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