There’s a school of thought that says a that a book should look like it’s been read. By that I mean read and downright enjoyed. As a consequence, any tea, coffee or general everyday stains and physical scars are merely evidence that the book was a constant daily companion, treated like a friend and had access to all areas. Yes, including the bathroom.
I was once offered a book to borrow that looked like twenty-four hours in Chernobyl would make it more user-friendly. Damn good read though.
The opposite view is that any book needs to be revered and protected with obsessive zeal. The spine of a book, whether hardback or paperback, shouldn’t be bent further than is absolutely necessary to read the text and should never, ever, be read whilst eating or drinking.
I’m not sure what the rule is regarding reading in the bath or seated on the toilet but I would imagine such a prospect would lead book purists to justify lynching without trial.
AND THE VERDICT IS…
Of the two I probably lean towards the first point of view. I have a small cloth cover which is ideal for placing the book in when I take it on a journey, but generally I don’t stress if a corner of a paperback has become a little bent or the cover of my hardback is a little frayed.
A little chocolate on a preface? Not a problem. A little jam in a crucial chapter? Bring it on. The only hard and fast rule I have is against turning over the corner of a page as a marker. That’s why God gave us book markers people. It’s what separates us from the animals.
THE VINYL COUNTDOWN
People used to have a similar approach to vinyl album covers. There were those who frankly used to treat the gatefold albums with artwork by the likes of Roger Dean better than their girlfriend.
Every inch of the cover would be analysed like religious text, and thanks would be given to the Gods of Progressive Rock, at whose high temple would sit Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis, among many others.
The album itself; maybe an hour later, would be lifted from the cover slowly and reverentially, using just the tips of the fingers and the inside of the thumb and placed on the turntable (after the gentle dusting from a suitable cloth) with a surgeon’s precision.
Then the needle would be placed on the vinyl at absolutely just the right place. All put together it was basically an audio version of foreplay (something else the girlfriends probably rarely got).
For me however, the ultimate expression that an album was loved was when it looked like it had been around the block a few times. Admittedly I did have plastic covers for many but mostly these would tear on the seams and only gave token protection.
SISTERS ARE PLAYING IT FOR THEMSELVES
This was especially true for me, with two younger sisters with similar tastes in music who would regularly ‘borrow’ my albums. Often these would be recovered days later amongst the debris of discarded make-up, blouses and skirts. I still have to this day an album by Bad Company that is virtually unplayable due to hairspray contamination. Still got it though. Happy days.
But then again, I favour the lived-with album sleeve. I was reminded of this recently when I got out my copy of The River from Bruce Springsteen. I recall vividly the day I got it home, with all the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.
It was new, crisp, unblemished and beautiful. And, best of all, it was a double album. Oh my God, a double feast of new Springsteen songs!
I turned it around looking down the track listing of songs I’d not yet heard, but knew they were going to be friends I would travel down the road with, both in a metaphorical and actual sense. ‘Ties That Bind’, ‘Sherry Darlin’, ‘Two Hearts Are Better Than One’, ‘Independence Day’, the list went on. And on.
Forty-one years later and we’re still travelling down that long, adventure filled road. The album cover betrays the years; frayed, torn, the inside covers coming away despite the odd repair attempt with a Pritt stick. A couple of tracks have jumps on I still expect and would somehow miss if they were no longer there.
Yet somehow this all fits for an artist from urban New Jersey championing characters damaged and flawed, patched up yet somehow ready to go again. This was not an album made to be looked at and admired like a piece of art, it was street tough and built for whatever the journey threw at it.
But whatever your point of view, whether you like your books and old vinyl tattered and torn or pampered and pristine, unlike the soulless world of Kindle or music streaming, at least you own something worth caring enough about to keep.