Given that I once wrote an essay for the Chicago Tribune decrying the shelfworn condition in which a loaned paperback made its way back to me, I find myself almost gloating at the charges of undue similarity (no one’s saying “plagiarism” but the meaning is clear) levied at New York Times contributor and tome torturer Ben Schott (“Confessions of a Book Abuser“). From the correction:
An essay in the Book Review on March 4, “Confessions of a Book Abuser,” by Ben Schott, defended the ways people physically “mistreat” books. Readers have subsequently pointed out a number of resemblances between Schott’s essay and “Never Do That to a Book,” an essay on the same subject by Anne Fadiman that was part of her 1998 book “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.”
(The readers of Bookninja were on the case on March 5, by the way. And wish I had a link to the Fadiman essay.)
Actually, I secretly envy those who think nothing of using books as notepads, coasters, and shims. I suspect that, somehow, those people are interacting more fully with the books than I am — and not just physically, intellectually. But I find myself treating my own books with kid gloves, whether they’re mass-market paperbacks or dust-jacketed first editions.
Fortunately, I do have an outlet for my secret desire to play rough with books: advance copies. If I’m reviewing a book, the gloves come off. I’ll crack its spine, dog its ears, and transcribe other people’s cell-phone conversations in the endpapers. It’s probably some sort of psychological dysfunction on my part, like a man who wants to keep his wife on a pedestal but act out his fantasies with a lover. Not that I’m European myself.