7.08.2009

Pencil marks, chocolate smudges, and battered dustjackets


Yesterday I was in a bookstore. One of my favorite bookstores.
I stood in one aisle of the Blue Room, holding two books in my hands. Two copies of the same book.

*the first: new, paperback, smelling of freshly printed paper, smaller/more portable, and also 3 dollars more.
*the second: used, hardcover with a slightly battered dustjacket, thick, musty pages, and the binding a little curved.

I stood there for at least ten minutes, trying to decide which to buy. It was not a matter of whether or not I would buy the book; that had already been decided when I looked up the author's last name, eagerly scanned the shelves, and stood on tiptoes to reach the two books. It was a choice of new vs. used, or new vs. new-to-you.

I have always felt that used books have more character. That if they are well-worn, it means they have been well-loved. That if the binding is curved or the cover is a little tattered, it's because it has been opened again and again to reread a favorite passage, or that the former owner took it everywhere with them because they just couldn't put it down.

One of my mother's cookbooks, when opened, immediately falls to her favorite brownie recipe. The page is scattered with annotations, adaptations, and a few smudges of chocolate. I love that. That's not just how cooking should be; it's how life should be.

We try to do our best, and take the best care of ourselves. And that is a very good thing. But sometimes we screw up, and our pages get a few smudges, and the dustjacket gets a few tears (or we lose it altogether), or we add pistachios to the mix, and later decide that made one terrible batch of brownies. And sometimes, much as we try, we don't learn from our mistakes the first time. Sometimes we must revisit that painful passage again (and again), to catch the whole lesson.

But at some point, when the screwing up has paused for a moment: we put ourselves back together, smooth out our edges as much as we can, and stand tall, knowing that someone will love us better for our scars, for our failed attempts at perfect life, and for the story no one else can tell.


{After several minutes of mental deliberation, I chose the sullied script over the virgin text.}

Somehow I know I will love this book. And I think I will love it even more because it has been loved by someone before me.

photo via deviantart

8 comments:

Jayne said...

This is a BEAUTIFUL post, Laura! This passage was my particular favorite:

"I have always felt that used books have more character. That if they are well-worn, it means they have been well-loved. That if the binding is curved or the cover is a little tattered, it's because it has been opened again and again to reread a favorite passage, or that the former owner took it everywhere with them because they just couldn't put it down."

Well-said! And I feel exactly the same way. Just lovely. xxxx Jayne

Bob Z. said...

Just a heads-up: Bekah said in her blog that The Time-Traveler's Wife is a pretty dirty book. Just so you can be ready for it.

amanda and dave said...

um, wow. that was amazing! which book was it??

Jennifer said...

I don't know you (clicked on the link from Spinning Into Control), but I LOVE this. First: I love the idea. I love old, "well-loved," books, and this is the perfect metaphor! Second: You have an ear for language. The cadence of this piece is beautiful. Keep writing, it makes the world better!

Katya said...

love love love this post. beautifully written laura! and i'm oh so jealous you got to hang out in that bookstore. :)

Josh said...

I've decided Laura that you have a gift for blogging. Probably for writing in general. I think you might be the best out of all of us....

Josh said...

You write and respond to the deeper things. I can't stand it when I read someone's post that is just dripping with deeper meaning and beautiful exposition and then a half dozen people ignorantly comment on how much they love such-and-such as well. **OY!**

Kellie Rachelle said...

I agree with you, and in showing love for your book in that way. But you also know my idea of loving my books with everything I have is to take perfect care of them. We have a ton of books that used to belong to my great grandparents. They are OLD. Some are printed at the beginning of the 1900's. The pages are yellow and the beautiful hard covers delicate. My family, up the line to the owners of these books, as far as I know, are all avid readers. You know these books were read and loved. But because of the great care that their owner took of them, here I am, almost 100 years later than some of the printings, and they are in good enough condition for me to inherit, read, and enjoy for myself.
Not to downplay your beautiful post at ALL, just curious. Why was such a well-used, well-loved book given away to a book store in the first place? Does the owner not care enough to pass it on to their posterity to love as well and share something that was special to them with those they love? Did the posterity, going through their possibly deceased relative's belongings not care enough to keep something so precious?
Reading is one of the most fulfilling pastimes of the human existence. In my opinion. If only everyone understood this as well as us and some of our friends :)