There are a lot of things that etiquette dictates we don’t talk about in polite conversation, not because they are distasteful but instead because they’re polarizing and often antagonistic. Religion, politics, unions, and recently, vaccinations all fall into this category.
Between readers, I’ve found almost nothing starts an argument more easily than “to fold or not to fold” (except for a discussion of Twilight… but I’ll save that for another post). To be clear, I don’t think that dog-earing pages actually equates in significance to any of the big issues that have people protesting and legislating and committing violence. However, if you want to see tempers flare among introverted, mild-mannered booksellers, I dare you to fold your pages in front of them.
I am an unapologetic page folder. That, and a general dislike of cycling, were the two things that most set me apart from my indie bookstore cohorts.
To me, a read book should look as if it was handled. It should tell a story about the reader. If the pages are folded hundreds apart, it was read in hours-long stretches. If the cover is bent or marked, it was shoved into a purse or slept on accidentally when the lateness of the hour won out over the need to keep reading. If the pages are stained, it was too good to put down while eating. If it’s unnaturally fat and wrinkled, it was read on the bank of some body of water by a clumsy reader, or it was accidentally left out in the rain. If there are notes in the margins, it was studied or beloved or both.
I could keep my books pristine by reading indoors, by stopping to eat like a civilized person, by using bookmarks (I get enough as gifts), but reading is not an activity I want to do carefully.
A colleague of mine said it best when he described books as “artifacts of our lives” (shout-out to you, Duncan Stewart). They are not just a medium to receive information or decorations for our house. They are not just commodities.
They are pieces of our time in the world. They are tactile moments of education or escape, revelation or disappointment. They reflect who we were as we experienced reading them. And if that means they get a little dirty, bent, or warped along the way, all the better.