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Features | Breaking the Spine


I'll admit, I'm the kind of person who likes to keep their books looking as pristine as the day they were bought. I perfected the art of reading in the bath without getting the book wet a long time ago, I try my hardest never to break the spine, and I never ever fold down the corner of a page or write in the margins. In the rest of my life I'm kind of a messy person. I constantly leave clothes hanging from the back of my desk chair and most of my handbags are lined with old receipts, but when it comes to books I'm kind of a neat freak.

I ordered a secondhand copy of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes recently and when it arrived I couldn't help but cringe a little at the obvious creases of the broken spine and the way that the front cover flips open just a little bit too easily. At first these struck me as signs of a book that hadn't been taken care of properly, but then I remembered the stories behind some of the broken spines on my own shelves and I reconsidered a little. Maybe I need to start thinking of these little blemishes as signs that a book has been well loved, instead.

There are plenty of examples of these signs in my own bookcase. The Great Gatsby's broken spine from forcing it open while I copied quotations for a university essay; the crinkled, dyed orange edges of The Mediator: High Stakes's pages where a friend's water bottle leaked in her school bag and mixed with the pigment of a loose pen while she was borrowing it; and the little indentations on the edges of the last 100 or so pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where all of my emotions manifested in tears and my fingers gripping so hard that the papers' edges will always be a little wavy on the saddest and most intense pages. These are all my own stories and now they're a part of those books, which is pretty cool.

But if I ever lend you a book, please use a bookmark. And if I catch you writing in the margins, I'll be revoking your library privileges. I may be able to look on the bright side of broken spines and crinkled pages, but that doesn't mean I won't keep doing my best to avoid them. Once a book neat freak, always a book neat freak.

What about you? Do you try not to break the spines, or are you a total maverick, writing in margins and folding page corners all over town? If you're the second I salute you and secretly wish I could be more like you. If you're the first, let's swap tips on how to keep our books neat and tidy.

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