Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Warning: Today’s post contains graphic descriptions of book abuse. I had no idea people were so squeamish about their books. I have seen friends become more alarmed over what I’m about to say than they have over the television images of oil-soaked pelicans. And, if that doesn’t break your heart, nothing will.

I ran into an emergency of sorts last week when I inadvertently ran out of books to read. I can’t remember this ever happening before. There’s a slight possibility that I had some tucked away under a pile of papers but I was too lazy to look around the house. Usually I have three or four books going at a time so I might occasionally come across one I had lost track of, at which point I would simply resume where I left off. There are some times when having ADD is an asset.

But not having anything to read sent me to Walmart. Laura Bush’s book was interesting but a quick read. Then I remembered that all the book review columns have been abuzz over the Stieg Larsson books so I looked on the shelves for them. Not only did they have the first in the series of three-- “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”-- they had two different printings of the book. One was small and cheap ($5.97) the other was a trade paperback for about $12 bucks. Then the current bestseller was in hardback for over $20. I really wasn’t sure how much I would like the book so I got the five dollar one. Only problem with it was that it was a fat book. When you shrink a book down to about 4X6 inches it ends up being about three inches thick.

I’m used to a certain feel to a book and I guess I’m a little picky. I don’t really like fat books or heavy books. So I went to the kitchen to get a good knife so I could slice it into manageable pieces. I did this with the last Harry Potter book. My kids think I’m sacrilegious and my mother would roll over in her grave if she knew I was cutting books up. I would never do this with a book that had any value to anyone once I was finished with it. I keep all my non-fiction books since I’m know to quote them on occasion or loan them out. But I knew that within a week the Harry Potter hardback would have about zero value since everyone in American who could read would have already read it. Likewise, my new $5.97 book would basically be worthless when I finished with it.

So, here’s how I do it. First you get a large, sharp knife. Are you still with me? You wouldn’t believe the visceral reaction I got from friends at this point in my story when I launched into it this weekend at a party. I thought people were going to faint on me.

I can still recall the lecture my elementary school librarian gave us every year on bookmarks. She specifically told us you cannot use a strip of bacon as a bookmark. And I can honestly say I’ve never done that. My mother, likewise, was very strict on book etiquette: you couldn’t dog-ear a book or set a glass on one. But all these admonishments were before I started paying for them myself. Now I buy the books and they belong to me and I get to make the rules. And, after all, folks, they ARE just pieces of paper. No one respects the legacy of ideas more than I do. But get a grip on yourself. It comes to a point of who is in charge. I’m kind of that way about dogs, too. I’ve never seen a dog yet who could make a house payment, aside from maybe Lassie. You have to be careful what you let control you. OK, everybody calm now?

My technique calls for a delicate and respectful touch. If you’re going to cut a book into thirds you’d better know what you’re doing. You can’t just go hacking away at it willy-nilly. If it’s a hardback you have to get the cover off. It’s a little bit like skinning a deer. Find the point where the back meets the spine and make an incision down the inside of the spine on either side. This will separate the cover from the guts. Next, divide the book into thirds but, again, you have to be careful how you do this. You’ll want to find chapter breaks where the new chapter starts on the right-hand side. Then you take a long serrated knife. Lay the blade flat and close the book over it. This will guide the knife so it doesn’t cut into anything besides the back. Voila! When I finish I keep it all together with a rubber band. In the case of Harry Potter three different people now are able to read the book at the same time, saving the world a total of around $60 by not buying three more books.

OK, now you can uncover your eyes, I won’t talk about book murder anymore.

About this time every year my Friend Susan sends me a summer reading list that she compiles. One year she also sent me the Hockaday reading list they send home with the girls. I love to find out what the really sharp kids are reading. Whenever I’m in a college town I visit the campus book store. I have a theory that if you read all the books on their shelves you would have the equivalent education. Who goes to class anymore? If you believe what you read on facebook, going to class is highly overrated, anyway.

……..Well, as of press time (or bedtime in my case) Susan had not sent me her list for the summer. And I’m kind of tired after a full day of Grand Camp. Let me do this: I’ll jot down a few I’ve read in the last year and set up a tab on my website for Susan’s list when it comes in. Send me your own list and we can have a really thorough list, one that you can refer back to as the summer goes on.


Yesterday's Blessing said...

Yikes! I thought you were joking in your title - but graphic was the perfect word for what I read - "like skinning a deer???" I've never sliced a book into parts but I did destroy a library book once while camping in a leaky tent - the water made it swell up to more than three times its size. I had to buy the library a new copy even though the librarian kindly offered to take it back (she had not seen the distorted volume or she would never have offered.) And for a while (I think when I was the mother of two young children) a real treat to was take a bubble bath and read a novel - no kids allowed. I slipped a couple times, dunking my books, and that was the end of bathtub reading.

Heather said...

Ha! I don't know about book murder, but I doubt anybody can beat me when it comes to reckless book endangerment.
In my old apartment, the stove was one of those flat-top things. My usual morning routine was to eat breakfast, then spend a couple minutes with a book and a cup of tea. So one day (maybe the postage-stamp sized countertop was covered in clean dishes I hadn't put away yet) I set my library book on one corner of the stove, and the teakettle on the other. A few minutes later, I smelled something funny...Aughh! The heat was on under the book rather than the kettle.
I went to the library to offer to pay for the ruined book, and the sweet librarian told me to bring it back anyway. "Oh, we get that kind of thing all the time. Usually it's not nearly as bad as you think." She didn't get it at all. The whole last CHAPTER was scorched and illegible, and the plastic-coated back cover was all melty and blackened.