Do you save your place in a book by setting it face down, or by inserting a bookmark? The difference between the two says something about how you regard and use books. Anne Fadiman labels those two approaches as “courtly love,” as in those who respect the physical aspects of a book as well as the contents and would never cause their literature any harm, and “carnal love,” meaning those who value the contents way more than the paper its printed on. People who feel carnal love toward books will fold a page down, allow the spine to crack, jot notes down in the margins, or even split a book in half in order to make the act of reading more efficient and enjoyable. Fadiman’s brother explains why he leaves open books face down.
“They are ready in an instant to let me pick them up,” he explains. “To use an electronics analogy, closing a book on a bookmark is like pressing the Stop button, whereas when you leave the book facedown, you’ve only pressed Pause.” I confess to marking my place promiscuously, sometimes splaying, sometimes committing the even more grievous sin of dog-earing the page. (Here I manage to be simultaneously abusive and compulsive: I turn down the upper corner for page-marking and the lower corner to identify passages I want to xerox for my commonplace book.)
All courtly lovers press Stop. My Aunt Carol—who will probably claim she’s no relation once she finds out how I treat my books—places reproductions of Audubon paintings horizontally to mark the exact paragraph where she left off. If the colored side is up, she was reading the lefthand page; if it’s down, the right-hand page. A college classmate of mine, a lawyer, uses his business cards, spurning his wife’s silver Tiffany bookmarks because they are a few microns too thick and might leave vestigial stigmata. Another classmate, an art historian, favors Paris Métro tickets or “those inkjet-printed credit card receipts—but only in books of art criticism whose pretentiousness I wish to desecrate with something really crass and financial. I would never use those in fiction or poetry, which really are sacred.”
Both types of readers love books, but differ in that one regards books as sacred objects to be cherished as well as read, while the other regards the paper manifestation as something to be used, even used up, to get all the good out of it. Read more about this dichotomy at Slate, and then tell us what you think in the following poll. Calling John Farrier! -via Digg
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POLL: Which type of book lover are you?
- Courtly love- I take good care of my books.
- Carnal love- I use them thoroughly.
- In the middle- I might splay one or fold a corner, but I generally try to take care of them.
- It depends on the book.