Books are holy things.  Precious. Sacred.  Powerful.  Thus, some would claim the need to be held pristine – unmarked and bent, preserved.  But I have never been someone who understands the idea of collectible in the original packaging or dolls kept in plexiglass.

Leaf a3r of an incunable edition of Florentius Diel's "Modernorum summulae logicales" with 7-line illuminated initial C, rubrication, and a few ms. underlines and marginal note in brown ink from Flickr via Wylio

© 2013 POP, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

For me to show something’s value, I need to hold it close – to breath the grime and sparkle of life into it, to bend the edges with my fingers and taste its whisper.*

My copy of Wild Surmise by Eloise Klein Healy is dog-eared and underlined.  The pages are sweeping away from one another because I bend the cover back onto itself every morning when I read from it as part of my morning writing practice.  It’s well-loved, the Velveteen Rabbit of books.

My Bible looks the same – all of them do, including the one my father had my high school that has long-lost the cover and is full of the red-letters of Jesus but also of my aches that lead to understanding in the margins.

A book pristine and unbent on my shelf means one of two things: I have not read it yet, or I did not care about it at all.  The second option doesn’t stay long in my house.

But if you open my copy of My Name is Asher Lev or turn the pages of The Cloister Walk or put Beloved to your noise, you will see fingerprints and smell the vanilla lotion I wore every day in those years after college. You will watch how the things I underlined change as life crafts me different.  In the pages, you will see my story, too.

When I love something, I draw it near, and nearness brings scars and markings – chosen and unexpected – and beautiful all the same.

What about you? Do you keep your books pristine or do you mark them up?  What leads you to that practice?


*All you librarians out there who are beginning to cringe, don’t worry – I don’t dog-ear or underline in library books. 😉 And I don’t loan books out for the same reason. If you take a book from my home, it’s yours to keep because I want you to love it hard.