books · memories


My copy is autographed by Gaiman. "Mind the Gap!"

In a fun game of Don’t Rest Your Head this past Sunday, the Mad City we ended up in at the end reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which I read years ago. Enough that I was interested to pick up the book again this morning for my commute. I got 20 or so pages in before arriving at work, and as was my habit years ago but hasn’t been of late, I dog-eared the page I was on to mark my place — and then had to smile as the corner easily folded down because it had been dog-eared when I first read the book. A nice little reminder, a new kind of note of familiarity, a little sign to welcome me back to a place I’d been before.

There are a lot of reasons people resist e-readers, other than the price, and I can respect a lot of them. I don’t get the “book smell” one — I’ve never noticed a particular smell to books. I’m sure there is one, everything has a smell (except for iocaine powder!), but I’m not a smell-oriented kind of person. In this case, I’m visual. I love covers, I love how books look, all lined up on my bookshelf, or sitting on my nightstand. Given that, you’d think I’d hate folding pages to mark my place, because doesn’t that destroy the perfect look?

Nah. Just like sneakers are meant to get dirty, and bumpers to get scuffed, books are meant to be used and read and to show the signs of it. I’m picky, though. I hate cracked spines, but I love creases in them; I get irritated by rips or a little water-damage, but I love a cover that’s gone a bit soft from being held.I love that I folded a page that I’d already folded, knowing I’d been there before, that this was my book. I think I treasure that fact even more than this being an autographed copy.

And these are the things you can never get out of an e-reader. There’s no real sense of ownership, of nostalgia. There’s no way to know you’ve been here before, beyond the fact you know the story. Some e-readers let you highlight passages, sure, but that feels more distracting than anything, because you also have to read what everyone else has highlighted. It draws your eye to that sentence before anything else on the page,Ā  you end up reading it out of context instead of being able to enjoy it on your own. (This happens to be one reason that I’m glad I have a Nook instead of a Kindle; no highlighted passages.)

Hello, Page 25, my old friend.

Do I still enjoy having an e-reader? Hell yes! I can carry as many books as I like with me at a time, I can easily go read a previously read book without swapping it out on my bookshelf. Having an e-reader is great. But there are some things it just can’t replace, whether that’s the smell or the feel or the vivid covers…or just an old, dog-eared page inside a well-worn cover.

3 thoughts on “Dog-eared

  1. I have to admit that I REALLY hate folding down page corners (I always either use bookmarks or just find the place where I left off), but I totally agree with you on the rest of it. I recently remarked to some of my other friends that one of my main problems with e-readers is that you can’t see what people are reading – and, more importantly, you can’t see the books they LOVE reading. My Sherlock Holmes books have soft, worn-down covers, creased spines, minor scuffs and tears and you can tell from a glance that I’ve read them again and again and again. Same with my paperback copy of American Gods, really, or my Dresden Files novels (though most of them came to me secondhand and already a bit worn). You can tell a lot about someone not only by the books on their shelf or in their hand, but also by the wear and tear those books have suffered. True book-lovers do not keep their books in pristine, untouched condition: true book-lovers accept the signs of age and use while striving to care for those books as best they can. I am not ashamed of my books’ scars.

  2. You can turn off the highlighted passages in Kindle so no win there for Nook. šŸ™‚

    I don’t like dogearing pages and prefer bookmarks but I do like the inside of the book to stay nice. The outside can get worn but not the inside.

    Also, I don’t think bumpers are meant to be scuffed. šŸ˜‰ But I get your point.

  3. I try to keep my books in pristine condition for as long as possible… but… if you look at my bookshelves it’s pretty obvious which books are my favorites.

    Also, I just could not get into Neverwhere and American Gods… I love Gaiman’s purely fantastical books – Stardust, the Sandman series, but I just cannot get into those two. I had this discussion with a friend who had just read American Gods and felt there was simply something missing. What is the key to me enjoying those two books? I don’t own Neverwhere and my copy of American Gods had a run in with some water or coffee long ago… I was reading it in 2003 as I was using a building entry stub as a book mark.

    I just can’t bring myself to dogearing pages either! That’s when I look at the page number and say: “Memory, let’s do this.”

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