16 October, 2021

Gimbling in the Wabe – The Great Dog Ear Debate

The Great Dog Ear Debate

A while ago, I responded to a post on Facebook where I mentioned something to the effect of dog eared bookhaving a much-loved book whose dog eared pages reminded me of my passage through its story.  Or something like that, I honestly don’t remember.

What I do remember is the backlash that came from my response.  Some people were incensed.  I was raked over the social media coals, and I think I lost a friend or two (although no one I missed).  This took me totally by surprise.  I had no idea that people felt so strongly about turning down the corner of a page to mark one’s place in a book.

Listen, I totally understand treating books with the utmost respect.  I can honestly say that some of my reading experiences have been almost sacred; there have been some that literally have changed my life.  But the books themselves, at least to me, are not inherently the same as the reading experience.  They are the road, but not the journey.

That’s not to say that I would dog ear just any book.  My Riverside Shakespeare is sacrosanct.  I have a complete set of the works of Charles Dickens, published in 1884, that sit on an upper shelf of my book hutch away from casual fingers even though they aren’t really all that valuable; it’s more the family history they hold that is precious and not subject to casual purveyance.  Large glossy picture books are glamorous and should not be manhandled; some books are gilt and delicate and not capable of holding up to even disinterested usage.  Library books should be handled with the utmost of care.  More so even books borrowed from friends – they are an extension of trust.  I would never, ever dog ear a single page of one of these.

I also understand the incredible and marvelous history of the written word and the printing process, and am so very thankful that I live in a time where books are common and accessible to all.  I have stared through glass just scant inches away from centuries old, hand copied, glorious illuminated manuscripts that totally and completely captivate me, not just by their beauty but by the care and dedication and artistry it took to pass on this sacred knowledge in a time when such efforts were truly herculean.

But for the most part, I think of the books I’ve read with fond familiarity.  Most of the books in my possession are trade paperbacks, regular paperbacks and mass market paperbacks.  They get stacked on tables and shelves and windowsills, occasionally even on the floor when space is scarce.  They become brittle with time and heat, well worn with being thumbed and propped, yellowed with age.  They are the casual friends that do not stand of formality, the ones who would rather be familiar than treated with kid gloves.  They are the no-holds-barred, the down-and-dirtied, the stuff of legend of everyday life and the ones that leave the most indelible impact on my brain and in my heart.

These are the books that get dog eared, not because they are cheap but because they are familiar and comfortable and personal.  These are the ones that don’t stand on convention and don’t put form above function, they forgive bent pages and cracked spines and torn covers (so very carefully mended with strapping tape… I have some covers that are more tape than card stock – they are the ones most loved).

These are the books where the creases at the corners indeed mirror the journey I have taken through them before.  The ones that reflect great swatches devoured in single sittings or meticulously gleaned at a snail’s pace to ensure absolutely nothing is missed.  And those dog ears that are left in place after I’ve moved on mark passages of great wonder or beauty or significance so they can be easily found again when need or reflection arises.  If I were in the habit of treating them like textbooks, underlining or highlighting sections of special note, then I would consider that no less sacrilegious.  This shows no disrespect, but joy at finding something that I want to keep just a hairsbreadth away from recapturing.  This allows the book to become a crucible of living words, not some staid stack of parchment to be saved for occasion rather than whim.

I certainly don’t begrudge others if they feel differently than I do, if they feel obliged to hold all books in a “higher regard” than it may seen I afford my copies.  I also don’t mind folks whose cars get vacuumed out and washed regularly, or who schedule time with a stylist as soon as their hair touches their collars, or who respond with indignation and trowel in hand when a dandelion has the audacity to mar their well kept lawn.  I can admire and appreciate these traits in others; I simply cannot replicate those traits and behaviors without undue effort and lack of conviction on my part.  These are not value judgments.  They simply aren’t attributes that I myself chose or desire to uphold – not better or worse, just not me.

And so, despite the horror it might provoke or the disapproval it may garner, I will continue to dog ear the corners of my most familiar books, not out of a lack of respect but because of a love of what they hold for me.  I hope no one judges me too harshly for that, but if they do, honestly, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.  No, I’ll lose my sleep instead reading in bed longer than I should, into the wee hours of the morning, like I do almost every night.  And just before turning out the light, I’ll dog ear where I left off so I know where to pick it up again the next night.  That little crease will be an anchor in place, to be raised when the next leg of the journey begins.  And for me, that journey is really what it’s all about.

~ Sharon Browning

4 thoughts on “Gimbling in the Wabe – The Great Dog Ear Debate

  1. I write in mine. Like you, my precious and collectibles stay secure, but the day-to-day stuff is just that – day-to-day. Most of what I read is non-fiction and I feel compelled to add my thoughts to the margins. The fiction I do read gets beat up in the purse and falls down between the seats in the car. They are like my comfortable clothes and get used over and over again. My husband gave me a beautiful edition of Solzhenitsen’s August 1914 a few years ago to replace the one with the rubber band holding it together but I need that old copy. It is my friend.

    1. “…like my comfortable clothes…” I like that, Helen, very much! I think you are a woman after my own heart! Love the story about the Solzhenitsen. I have a copy of “Gone with the Wind” that has been taped inside and out, over and over, and the pages have become almost like onionskin, but I refuse to get another copy. It, too, is a friend. Lovely response, thank you.

  2. I’m the same as you–I have some sacred books, quite a few actually, that I treat with care. I have A LOT with dog-eared pages and Post-its. What used to drive me crazy was an (ex-)mother-in-law who would flatten the books open to mark her page, and then sit a drink on top of them! (: (Nice piece, by the way.)

    1. Brady, I would never, ever mistreat another person’s book (even a relative’s) – what a horrible thing to do! Nor do I put drinks on mine (although I do have a few – of my own – with smudge stains from reading them while eating, which is blush inducing).

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