“Don’t leave dog ears on the book.”
Growing up, I was always asked to make sure that I left books in the exact same condition that it was when I first touched it. You couldn’t return it to the library if it wasn’t.
But it didn’t stop in libraries alone. Even at home, I recall my sister’s collection of Nancy Drews, always praised by everyone who saw it for the mint condition it was maintained and neatly stacked in. No dog ears, no creases, no stains on the pages and no bends in the spine. That’s what a book was supposed to look like, even if you had read it a hundred times.
As I grew older, I noticed that it was the unsaid standard book reading etiquette that everyone abided by.
But I couldn’t do it.
Why was it okay to highlight pages of a study guide and scribble endless notes on a text book but not while reading a novel?
I wanted to underline, in ink, the sentences that I thought were important, things that I wanted to remember. I wanted to read books for hours together even when my palms got sweaty and would smudge the ink at the bottom of the pages. I wanted to read at every interstice that I found, which was often during my meals. And sometimes that left behind oily stains and little dollops of ketchup that I wiped off as quickly and efficiently as I possibly could. But how efficiently could one wipe ketchup off a page anyway?
Sometimes when I read into the night, tear drops would spill onto the pages. Sacred water of my love for the words I was reading. But I dabbed at them with a piece of cloth so that no one would know. No one should to able to know which page made me cry.
I took my time with books. I liked to sit down and savor every single word in a good book. Oftentimes that meant shutting the book when I read something that blew me away. I’d hold the book to my heart and cry with gratitude. At times it took me hours or even days to go back to those words because I could only absorb profundity in bits and pieces, and I didn’t want to take on more than my feeble heart could handle.
This opening and closing jagged at my books and along the spine crept marks that were remnant of my inner draught, of my quenchless thirst for more words, words that never seemed enough.
I’d love to leave a book in tact, and I would if I were left intact after the read.
But books bind into my soul words that may never come to pass, whispers of love, promises of dreams coming true. They rip me apart when they take away my Beth, and forever leave me with unanswered questions of the mighty what if.
A good book rattles me and leaves me asking after everything I once held on to as the truth. A great book blurs my truths into shades of grey that I can never again restore to black and white, no matter how hard I try. Some books leave behind marks impossible to get off, spilling from within it stains of injustice, stains of cruelty, stains of human discrepancies. They take away faith and give me a viewing glass of a life that is and will always be poignant and bitter-sweet.
So how could I finish a read and not leave my mark on it? It was read by a human being, who lived complete with tears, sweat, and ketchup stains. I realized that I could never be that person who wouldn’t leave dog ears because I would fold pages down to go back to. To me, a book was never meant to look perfect on a bookshelf. It was meant to be devoured passionately and left with scars of pining and chaos.
It was created to ruin and be ruined.