Sunday, 6 October 2013

How to own a mucky book...

A little while ago, my sister leant me a book – a very beautiful book full of spiritual teachings.  When I was in hospital and in a rather dark place, I fell upon this book.  It went everywhere with me.  Down to X-Ray.  Into Ultrasound.  In the queue at Phlebotomy.  And, naturally, not far from my side in my hospital room.  In between writing, I read it while munching through the hospital’s menu of soggy cereal, insipid dinners and unappetising teas.  And when I went home, the book went with me, squashed into the depths of my handbag.
          My first husband was absolutely fanatical about the care and condition of any book he read.  Indeed, by the time he’d finished reading a book, you’d have honestly thought the thing had never had a page opened, let alone turned.  Quite how he managed to pull off such a feat was beyond me.  Unfortunately I am the opposite.  I open the book, flatten the page, turn corners of pages over to mark where I’m up to, and as I progress further and further into the book the spine collects more wrinkles than a crone.
          Reading is a pleasure.  And such enjoyment is heightened when the devouring of words is twinned with a snack.  It’s therefore not unusual to find my current read sporting greasy fingerprints from buttery toast.  The annual summer holiday leaves my books covered in sand, sun cream, pool and sea water.  Indeed, after three or four days on the beach, the book has seen so much of the latter that some pages become unglued.  If you spot a sunburnt blonde chasing bits of paper along a beach, that’s me.  So as you can see, I may be an avid reader but I’m not a very good carer.
          ‘Why are your books so scruffy?’ my sister once complained.  ‘Anybody would think you are a total slob.’
          I’m not a slob.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  Other than in the Book Department.  So when my sister loaned me this particular book, I was very wary of accepting it.
          ‘But it’s brand new,’ I pointed out.
          ‘That’s okay,’ she assured.
          I opened the first page and was horrified to see it had been inscribed with a personal message by the author.  And not to my sister either.  It was addressed to her husband.
          ‘Oh, but this is Richard’s book,’ I gasped.  ‘Does he know you’ve leant it to me?’
          ‘No, but don’t worry about it.  He’s had it years and never read it.  And it’s very unlikely he ever will.  Keep it.’
          ‘Gosh, thanks,’ I beamed.  And with that I treated the book as if it was my own.  Fatal.
          This morning I had a telephone call.  It was my brother-in-law.
          ‘Hi, Debbie.  I just wondered if you’d finished reading my book?’
          ‘Almost,’ I beamed, ‘and it’s absolutely marvellous.  What wonderful teachings.  I’m so grateful.’
          ‘Good, good.  Only the thing is, I’d like it back.  I want to read it myself.’
          There was a pause while I did the sort of gulp you hear in cartoons.
          ‘Ah.  Right.  Um, well obviously it’s not as, er, pristine, as it was.  So, uh, I know!’ I smiled brightly into the receiver.  ‘What about I buy you a brand new book to replace this one?’
          ‘No, no, no.  That’s nice of you to offer, but I’d like the original back.  It has a personal message in it, you see, from the author.’
          ‘Yes,’ I whispered while all sorts of words fired off in my brain which are far too rude to write here.  There is a lot to be said for the invention of Kindle.  Indeed, why the devil hadn’t I just downloaded the same book in the first place?  But it was too late for that now.  A rescue operation had to be done.  And quickly.
          So the book in question has been wiped clean, polished with a soft duster and, as I currently write, is being flattened under the weight of umpteen other books in order to restore the jacket and internal pages to some sort of decent condition, rather than curly edges with fluffy corners.  When I hand it over, it will be swathed in bubble wrap so my brother-in-law can’t see the second-hand condition until I’ve put some distance between us.  About twenty miles to be more precise.
          Which reminds me.  What sort of people make the best book-keepers?  The people who borrow your books and never return them...

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