Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Courtly or carnal lover of books?

In homage to Anne Fadiman

From the moment I started to read books my parents insisted on their proper treatment.

To turn the pages from the edge closer to the spine was illegal in our home. We were taught to lovingly caress our books and turn our pages from the outermost corner with great delicacy.

Books were not meant to be treated harshly by leaving them face down on the page you were on. Dog ears were punishable offences and we never DARED write in our books (even in pencil) ...

I just lurrrved re-covering my mum's old 1964 Oxford dictionary

... in fact we didn't WANT to write in our books. We were courtly lovers. Any precious book was adorned in a pristine cloak of clear plastic and forever preserved in perfection.

It's different for my husband.

Not long after I met my husband he told me with gritted teeth how he once read a Tim Winton book. He hated every minute of it but kept reading in the hope that it would get better. When he got to the end, he claimed to have kicked the book around the room for several hours.

I had to stop and think for a minute if I wanted to continue my relationship with him.

Cue theme music from Psycho... my husband's copy of Furrow.

Writer Anne Fadiman in a brilliant essay describes herself as a carnal lover of books. To her, books are meant to be devoured in word and physicality. Her son at 8 months would eat any book he held.

She says:

To us, a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was not a sign of disrespect but of intimacy.

Since I got married I have been known to leave a book face down on my bedside table... but as my dad says, it's just plain annoying to to read a book that someone else has written in. How can you decide for yourself what the main points really are?!!

So what are you, a carnal or courtly lover of books?

Tomorrow: how will you let your children treat their books?
A tale of Public Library Embarrassment


Gae said...

Dear Sarah,
I hope you achieve all you want to from this blog.
I loved reading this about books.
I would say we are middling of the road. It sometimes depends on the book, and dare I say what we paid for it and how rare it s.
My Tasaha Tudor books and some others like this. I guard more jealously than say a Golden book. But some golden books are out of print and these are more special too.
Love to have you visit (again) and hear from you too.
God Bless

Liz said...


We're definitely carnal lovers of books around here, although my son leans more towards the courtly end of things than the rest of us. My granddaughter (LW of Writing Living Epistles) is definitely a book eater (my kids weren't nearly as much into devouring the physical books as she has been, although she is improving slightly). A Bible, a breviary, a missal gets treated with more respect, but I do underline in Bibles. Perhaps if what we had were leather covered volumes of ancient age we'd be more respectful of the actual physical book. However, as it is no matter how well treated books tend to not have incredibly long lives in this era, so we simply enjoy them to the hilt while we have them. I must admit, however, that I still haven't brought out my long sought after copy of The Cow and the Silo to read to LW just yet. I'm waiting until the urge to eat corners and rip pages has passed.

Sarah said...

Hi liz, Thanks for your comments! Definitely a kindred spirit. I love to re-read my favourite books and reading your comment, I am torn between the two options. Anne Fadiman writes of the joy of discovering your side annotations of 20 years ago - like going back in time. I couldn't underline I Bible I don't think! I LOVE your blog and I look forward to reading it.

Sarah said...

Thanks Gae - I realised about Golden books AFTER my son had ripped up some old ones we bought. I have to buy some new one for him to rip and save the second hand ones for the future. My aunt bought me a beautiful second-hand copy of Marcellino Bread and Wine and I have covered it and it remains high on the shelf where little hands can't reach it. I will read it to them when they are older though.