Falling to Pieces

Old_book_bindings Wikimedia Commons

–photograph taken from Wikimedia Commons

One recent Saturday afternoon I settled down in an easy chair with a stack of saltine crackers, a glass of orange juice, and an old friend, the friend being one of my favorite novels. When I opened it, however, the binding cracked like stale peanut brittle. Pages sailed out and hit the floor like giant flakes in a literary snowstorm. Horrified, I reached for another novel and found that it, too, was on the verge of giving up the ghost. At that point I put my crackers aside, checked my bookshelves, and found several more favorites that were barely clinging to life. I had literally read these books to pieces.

A (partial) roll call of the dead:

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, the true story of a woman and her daughter forced by her then-husband to live in his native Iran, where her rights as a woman became basically non-existent. Her efforts to survive and her dash for freedom with her young daughter make for a very exciting read.

The Wanderer by Fanny Burney, an oldie but goodie, as I dearly love 18th century melodrama. I sympathize with the heroine’s struggles, and I also find it an interesting study of the confining gender roles prevalent in English society at that time.

The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell, one of the finest horror anthologies I’ve ever read. Many of the greatest names in horror fiction have stories in there including Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy”,  Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks”, and “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” by Robert Hichens, to name just a couple. I am very sorry to lose this book, and this is probably the first book that I will replace when my book-buying budget permits.

Sometimes I go into denial about what I want to preserve. Among the books that have traveled at my side since my girlhood is one box of original Weird Tales magazines. I have read them in the past, but I don’t dare even open that box any more because those ancient and eldritch mags will disintegrate at the first touch of fresh air, so those precious issues remain safely tucked in their box, where they are of no use to anyone at all.

I will buy replacements for my much-loved books. Used copies for sale are often as fragile as my originals, so I will buy modern reprints where I can find them. I know it’s what’s inside that counts the most, but I will miss the old covers anyway. Some people will tell me, why don’t you get the digital editions? I could, but I won’t. I want the smell, the feel, the look of that book when first I discovered it and added it to my collection of old friends.

Remember that old Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you, may wind be always at your back…?” Well, I have come up with a blessing for the book fiends among us: May the bindings on all your books remain intact and flexible, may your pages never splinter and your covers stay strong. May all our favorite books live forever!

About Julia French

Writer of contemporary horror fiction.
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