The other day, I found The Carnivorous Carnival (Book 9 in A Series of Unfortunate Events) on the floor, sprawled open, upside down, spine strained. My 9-year-old had left it there.
This was after Book 1 in the series had received so much water damage from one of my kids that I had to replace it. My hardcover Harry Potter books have ripped book jackets, and even the beautiful illustrated copies of the first three books in that series are showing wear and tear. Same 9-year-old also lost the first book in the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series and I made him buy me a new copy out of his allowance (but now the cover art has been redesigned and no longer matches the rest of my copies…)
Even outside of my children, it is difficult for me to lend out my books. So often, they aren’t returned and I begin to hyperventilate that I’ll never see the book again. Finally, a few years ago, I adopted the policy that if someone asks to borrow a book I say “Keep it, it’s a gift.” If I love the book enough, I buy myself another copy. It saves me all of the stress of wondering if my collection will ever be complete again.
Ironically, I was picking up the basement playroom when I found The Carnivorous Carnival, and listening to a playlist of classic rock on Amazon Prime. At that moment, The Who’s song “Baba O’Reilly” came on. “Teenage wasteland…. it’s only teenage wasteland…” That seemed appropriate as I surveyed the scene.
I love books, but I not only love reading them — I love collecting them. I have a gorgeous set of Jane Austen’s six novels on display. I inherited some collector editions of Charles Dickens books from the 1960s. I’ve been known to buy a book just because the cover is beautiful. And for my birthday last year, I bought myself a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged from The Folio Society.
My kids love to read and I love encouraging them to read. My 9-year-old will sometimes accept book recommendations from me, and reads the same paperback editions I had as a kid. I read out loud to them at bedtime, usually selecting a “classic” of some kind; a book that they might not otherwise read on their own (currently Mary Poppins).
But I have had a hard time watching them be hard on my books. I wince at the damaged covers and tears in the pages. I watch both my 9-year-old and 7-year-old return to the Harry Potter books over and over, but every time the books are returned to the shelf a little worse for wear. Also, there is a gap on my shelf where The Tales of Beedle the Bard should be, and I dread asking what happened to it.
Books should be loved. But could they be loved a little more gently??
I finally decided that I would need to have my own copy of the Harry Potter series. MINE only. Not for sharing. (Currently eyeing the special House editions that are being released for the 20th anniversary.) The current battered books will go to the kids to share.
As for the rest of my books, I’ll have to take a deep breath and possibly learn to let go. It isn’t like I am going to be able to have two copies of all of my books — one for me, and one for the kids. I dream of the day when my teenage kids may venture over to some of my collection of literature and fall in love with something like Steinbeck’s East of Eden or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
I’ll just have to hope that when that day comes and they borrow a book, they will return it when they are done so that I don’t have a hole on my shelf where the book used to be…