The Joy of Defiling Books (Yes, Really)

There is something truly special about a new book – the smoothness of the cover, the still sharp corners that haven’t rounded and softened with age, the smell, the way the pages crackle and snap as they are opened for the very first time, the rigidity of the virginal paper.  You get an excited buzz, like something amazing is about to happen, but you don’t want to stop stroking the pages and dive right in – the timing needs to be right, you need to be ready.  Sound crazy to you?  Maybe it is, but book lovers will understand.

Defiling books is bad; we all know it.  As children, it is drummed into us that writing in books is wrong – it induces gasps of shock and dismay.  To get a good debate going, talk about cracking the spine and bending the pages back – both somewhat controversial acts within the book community.  And as for bookish crafts…

But I have a confession: I love to defile books.  I crack the spine and bend the pages, using them, abusing them, and caressing them like old lovers.  I write in them too: notes, annotations, dedications – even shopping lists and phone numbers when I haven’t got anything else handy.  I have even been known to partake in the odd book craft or two.  Like any secret wont, I hid these habits of mine from the book community like an ashamed addict.  But why?  Are they really all that bad?

Cracking Can Lead to Arthritis

Okay, so the pages may fall out (tape them back in, or start buying better

Cracked Spines
Cracked spines

quality books) and the artwork may wear away (it’ll be a surprise read when you can’t see the title) but there are reasons that a cracked spine is good:

  •  It’s more comfortable to hold and easier to read.  By the time you get a third of the way in, reading a book without cracking the spine is stupidly difficult – who wants to peer into a narrow ravine and puzzle out the vague shapes that may just be words in the darkness, instead of bending the pages back and relaxing?
  • It’s tactile – from the silky smooth newness, all the way to the bumpy end, there is always a delicious texture to touch.
  • A truly loved book will have a cracked and well-used spine.  It’s a review all on its own – if it’s good, it’ll be heavily fractured.
  • You’ll know exactly where previous readers stopped – why didn’t they make it to the end?

“With all my love, 1958”


Every book tells a story (in addition to the story it tells proper).  Like people, each book has its own history; from its conception, through life, and finally to death.  Of course reading is a pleasure all of its own but working out the hidden story, the tale of history laced within the pages of an individual book, truly is a joy to behold.  Writing in books is a message through time – a time capsule, if you will.

  • Dedications: Who gave this book to whom, and why?  Imagine the scenario, how the person felt when they received the gift, guess at whether it was loved or not.  Check out W.B. Gooderham’s blog.  He compiles a collection of book inscriptions and dedication pages with great delight.
  • Annotations and highlights: The book’s own private book club.  An alternative way of looking at an idea perhaps, or highlighting a passage you may have previously skipped over, annotations show you what Markingsothers thought.
  • Random scribblings:  Shopping lists, notes, anything that tell you something about the previous owners – who they were, what they did, to make the story more complete.

You Made a What?

Book crafts are probably the most difficult of all book crimes to defend, but it is possible.

My very own wall, made from a dying encyclopedia.
My very own wall, made from a dying encyclopedia.
  • They can be very beautiful!
  • It is better to upcycle than to discard.  There comes a time in the lives of all books when the book graveyard is calling.  When the cherished thing can’t take any more repairing, re-taping, and re-binding, surely it is better to put the pages to use rather than just pulping them?
Complete with the inscription page


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s