The Creased Spine: The 8th Deadly Sin

This week, my friend Brian is in the middle of moving from his current dwelling to a new one. Being the stellar friend I am, I offered to help him with some of the process, so last night he decided I could assist with moving, unpacking, and organizing his books.

Please do not misunderstand. This was no small task. You see, Brian has a personal collection to rival most used bookstores or small-town library branches. It is one of the largest private book collections I have ever seen, and if you have ever heard me talk about my dad’s collections of books, then you know that’s saying a lot.

And the thing about Brian’s books is that a large portion of them are used paperbacks. He likes used books because they’re cheap. Okay, fine. Makes total sense. But the result of buying inexpensive, used books is that you get a lot of beat-up, bent-out-of-shape, heavily creased-spine books.

So, we got all the books unpacked and onto the shelves in a somewhat haphazard manner. Now we just had to organize them alphabetically by author last name and according to about six different categories. I stared up at the four different bookshelves towering in front of me (these were not all the bookshelves; just four of the tall ones) to pay homage momentarily to such a beautiful literary shrine. Then I began to pull certain books off certain shelves for closer looks. I pulled one such white paperback off the shelf. It was in great condition; no tears, no folds, and certainly no spine creases.

Now, one of my absolute favorite things about Brian’s personality is his easygoing, super laid back, perfectly chill attitude about most everything (at least whenever I’ve seen him). He doesn’t seem to get rattled easily. He goes with the flow, no matter how fast or how slow (haha, no rhyme intended), and he just doesn’t complain about stuff. So I was totally unprepared for the events that followed my next actions.

Being a practiced spine creaser myself (most recently and vehemently on my own Harry Potter series), I was almost salivating at the thought of being the first person to lay claim to this pretty white book’s virgin spine. Envisioning the creases I would put in it was almost better than the act itself. Finally, I opened to an arbitrary spot in the first third of the book and folded the pages back as forcefully as I could, inserting a rough, large crack into the spine of the previously unblemished book.

At an audible gasp from Brian, I looked up and noticed him staring at me, a look of thunderstruck horror upon his visage having replaced the playful, lighthearted smile I usually find there. “I can’t believe you just did that!” he half whispered, as if something sacred had died and whispering might make it not so.

Then he reached out and plucked the deflowered book from my hands. I, still confused, said, like a stupid blonde, “What’s the matter? Are you joking?” (Looking back now, I can only imagine how trying on his merciful patience this inane question must have been.)

But he calmly answered, “No, I’m not joking. You just creased the spine of this book.”

Still so embarrassingly clueless I might as well have been smacking a piece of bright-pink chewing gum or twirling my hair in my fingers, I said, “Yeah. What, is that a big deal or something?”

He answered, “Yes, it’s a bit of a big deal. I don’t like creased spines, and that book was in perfect condition.”

I made a big production of looking around at all the creased spines on the many shelves in front of where we stood and then turned back to him and said, “And you’re sure you’re not joking?”

“Yes, I’m sure I’m not joking.”

There was a slight pause, and then I asked, a little hesitantly but also a little teasingly, still blissfully ignorant of the grievous trespass I had committed, not to mention the newly dug grave I was now stomping all over. “So…are ya mad?”

There was a fraction of a second’s hesitation that seemed to tell me everything.

Incredulously, I said, “You’re mad?!”

How he was still able to answer calmly at this point is a mystery to me, but he said with a smile and a perfectly even tone, “No. I’m not mad.” I don’t think he was even gritting his teeth.

I rephrased the question, like a good prosecution attorney. “Are you irritated?” At this point I was starting to understand the gravity of my actions and was worried that I had done actual damage to a friendship that suddenly seemed much more fragile than I’d previously thought.

Brian, ever the epitome of patience, answered once again, “No, I’m not irritated. I’m just shocked that you did that.” Then, with a dismissive smile, as if all was forgiven and forgotten, he put the book back on its shelf with a flourish and we moved on. I breathed a sigh of relief that the tension seemed to have passed.

A few short minutes later, I turned around to find Brian standing in front of the ruined book again, running his index finger gingerly over the fresh crease and shaking his head sadly. He muttered with bitter amusement, “Man, you really creased that thing.”

Nervous about the tenuous bond between us once again, I said, “So you are mad.”

He shook his head and said quietly, “No…”

“But you’re dwelling on it,” I pointed out carefully.

“Yes,” he conceded. “You’re right. I’m dwelling on it.”

This led to a long, drawn-out conversation in which Brian extolled the virtues of taking care of paperback books, of leaving spines uncreased and intact, and of the danger of entire books falling apart due to overly creased spines. I had never heard anyone speak of book spines this passionately and reverently before except for my dad, who has given me the exact same speech before.

If you’re wondering why, if I’d heard this speech before, I would’ve been stupid enough to grab someone’s book and irreverently bend it in half, I will tell you. The reason is that I was convinced that my dad was the only person in the world who felt this way about books. I have always viewed books as possessions to be treated like faithful stuffed animals or comforting children’s blankets – things to be battered, worn, bruised, taped, torn, and creased. For me, these elements of a book make it feel comfortable and familiar, like an old friend whose conversation I can pick up easily even if I haven’t seen it for a while.

In the end, Brian concluded with a hint of melancholy in his voice, “Man. We are not compatible book owners.”

Friends, even Smokey the Bear could tell you that a simple conversation could have prevented this whole debacle. Learn from my mistake and ask your friends how they feel about spine creasing before you go gallivanting about, attempting to make the literary world look like a less austere, more friendly place.


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17 Comments

Filed under bloggy, books, irreverent

17 responses to “The Creased Spine: The 8th Deadly Sin

  1. Well I, for one, would have been equally as horrified as Brian if you just grabbed one of my books and creased it. I actually wonder what on earth made you think something like that was a good idea? Good grief! However, I *do* understand that you were just trying to make Brian’s bookshelf a happier place, and who can fault you for that? Brian seemed to handle himself well… better than I would have. But I think that says something bad about me, so maybe we shouldn’t go there. In any case, great post, good story, and well done using multiple “virgin” allusions. (Illusions? Now you have me confused as well.) On that note, good day to you, madam.

    • You would? That really surprises me for some reason. I guess we’ve never borrowed each other’s books, but I assumed you would’ve felt the same way I do. I guess I’ve never seen your Anne of Green Gables collection, but I’ve been imagining them for years as beat up and worn! Hmm. Interesting information, Ms. Reese. Wait. Mrs. Reese. Wait. Technically, would that be like calling me Mrs. Audra after I got married? Would one even do that? Hmm. Let’s just pretend this never happened.

      Anyway, thanks for your qualified “non-faulting” of my actions.

      And yes… Brian was pretty awesome about the whole thing in the end. Although…a comment from him on this post is conspicuously absent, since he is one of my most faithful commenters. So it’s entirely possible that we actually AREN’T friends anymore. Maybe I should check.

      And I believe “virgin allusions” would be the correct terminology. And thank you. And good day to you as well.

  2. TG

    A quick, stealthy survey of my coworkers spaces revealed that most of them do not crease the spines on their books. Then I looked at my own. No creases. Hmmm. I thought about this for a moment and came to two conclusions. My coworkers and I have an inherent understanding of how stuff breaks and our books are expensive.

    These are reference books and I presume don’t fall under the category of literature you are talking about. Even the books on my shelf that I would consider “old friends” have not been creased or deliberately creased. It’s interesting that you would liken a book to a friend, but then purposefully abuse one by causing permanent damage. Interesting indeed.

    I have a book that gives a good discussion of why stressing a thing (or book) in such a way causes irrepairable damage and would loan it to you, but I don’t want a crease in the spine. Amusing story nonetheless.

    • Tyler,

      Nope, reference books don’t count. Were they hardcover?? If so, they definitely don’t count.

      You are looking at this all wrong. I’m not “abusing” and “causing permanent damage.” My goodness, haven’t you ever had a friendship that had been through a heck of a lot and because of that it was a really solid, comfortable, awesome friendship??

      I wouldn’t WANT to read a book that emphasized not creasing spines. I will always be a spine creaser. It’s just that, from now on, I will be sticking to creasing only my own possessions.

      • TG

        I was too quick to discount reference and textbooks. They definitely do count. Any book that evokes an emotional response should count and I would argue that those responses do not need to be the ones to which you are accustomed. Paper or hardback also. I’m agnostic to book coverings; they all crease the same. You have no leg to stand on here since you’ve stated that you wouldn’t want to read such book that gives expert testimonial.

        Rather than say that you damaged the book, we’ll just say that you creased it. If I say damaged, that derails the point and then people would only get caught up in the conflict. When you creased the book, you also creased your friendship with Brian. There was a nice potential for symmetry there and I was disappointed the connections weren’t made.

        You went to the effort to personify the book with virgin allusions and made a nice little speech about books being like an old friend. But then you didn’t make the connection with what you had just done to your friendship with Brian. My symmetry and pattern craving brain was extremely unsatisfied. I don’t care about the facts, I just want my parallels drawn dang it!

        Next time when I make my observations, I’ll use more politically correct phrases like “gently worn” or “broken-in like an old baseball mitt” instead of damaged.

        • If you are agnostic to book coverings and think they all crease the same, then a) you clearly have not read this book you claim to own about the dangers of stressing possessions or b) it doesn’t actually discuss the specific ramifications of spine creasing. That was actually one of the main points of Brian’s lecture to me on the night in question: hard cover is okay because it does no damage; paperback, be careful.

          Yes, using the word “damage” does derail the point. But you did that, not me. I never used such terminology in the original post; you’re the one who brought that in.

          I didn’t make the symmetrical connections to the friendship because there was no connection to make. The friendship with Brian is not (to my knowledge) damaged or creased or whatever other word you’d like to use as a synonym for “ruined,” which is what you seem to be implying. If anything, our friendship is better for it 1) because I now know how to show Brian respect in a way I didn’t previously and 2) we have a funny story to share with others and between ourselves.

          Besides that, truth of the consequences on our friendship aside, one of the inherent beauties of a good piece of writing is its ability to get readers to draw their own conclusions and make their own interpretations. I shouldn’t have to spell out a parallel connection for you. It’s your responsibility to do that on your own because every reader will approach the text from a different context, background, and perspective, and no writer can be expected to draw all connections or present all possible interpretations. Readers who expect or want that are just being lazy.

          • b longfellow

            Wow, I totally missed this exchange the first time around. It’s an entertaining one.

            Just a clarification on creasing hardbacks: recent hardback publications (as in the last 20-30 years at least) generally have a poor quality spine, as they rely on glue to hold them together. Because of this, hyper-extending their spines can crack the glue or pull the pages apart from one another where they meet the spine, thus resulting in loose pages or ugly exposures of the spine – the places where these books will always fall open to.

            Older hardbacks, in contrast, are bound together with string and are comparatively indestructible. They can be hyper-extended or read one hundred times without ill effect. Their only susceptibility is to time; the paper of the pages may become brittle and the string may begin to rub larger holes in the paper where the string passes through. After outliving a few human generations, these holes may wear completely through and the book may suffer a loose page.

            (I ended up here again by following the link to your Deadly Sins series. Already trying to guess what the 10th deadly sin might be.)

  3. Audra, NO! Maybe this shocked me because you seem to be such a particular person; detail oriented, organized person. At least from your writing and I know how much you love books. Though, he did have shelves of older, warn books. But then, that is what made one so special.

    Myself, I’m very quirky about my stuff; and thus, this follows over to other peoples things.

    To loan a book, ie: a favorite book, I’m very hesitant. Such as my ‘Twilight series’ (which I know you probably wouldn’t consider to one day fall in with the classics, LOL) I have rules and return dates. My friends know protective I am of my things. In fact, even my favorite DVDs. And, I am aware that I could buy a new one to replace it but still; it is mine. [And, don’t touch my electronics: ie, LT, iPhone, Kindle, iPad. I get an eye twitch.]

    So, I guess knowing that about myself , the fact that you actually opened the book and creased the spine made me *gasp*.

    I will not dog-ear a book, rather I opt for a bookmark; or more preferably, a post-it note (they don’t fall out). When I read a book on the treadmill I am very careful to hold the outer edges and all pages in effort not to crack/crease/split the spine.

    I’m the same with a magazine belonging to someone else; though, I will dog ear my own magazine from time to time. But, I know there are a whole lot of other people in the world who wouldn’t be so particular.

    *deflowered* Great analogy ;-)

    Happy Friday!

    • FW, I am a particular and detail-oriented person and organized person. But I have learned to be laid back about certain things, and the condition of my books is one of those things. And I view the fact that my books are worn and creased as evidence that I truly love them.

      I’m glad I made you gasp, even if it was in horror. It means I wrote the story well. :) And here’s something kinda funny. I actually don’t dog-ear my books either. I prefer bookmarks. For some reason, I don’t like folding pages.

      In any case, glad you liked the post; sorry I scandalized you!

  4. Katie Knapp

    My dad is the same way. He won’t even dog-ear his pages. I however, love seeing folded pages, creased spines, anything that indicates that this book and I had a close, personal, physical relationship. I wasn’t just reading that book. I was interacting with it. So what if a couple of my Harry Potters are missing part of their covers? I know the title, I don’t need to see it. What I see when I look at my bent and battered books are friends with whom I have multiple warm, comforting, happy memories. And I will take that over the cold indifference of a pristine spine any day.

    *suck it dad
    **i do respect and love my father

    • Katie, I am not at all surprised to find that we are kindred spirits on this subject. I actually had a feeling you would feel the same way! Hear, hear! And thanks for the support. All these perfect-spine-loving, bookworm CRAZIES have come out of the woodwork to attack me, so it’s nice to have someone on my side! :)

  5. Katie, ha ha! Great comment!

  6. No-no! Never attacking you Gal! And, FYI, I hope you and your friend are still in good graces. :-) If he is still that distraught you could always buy him a fresh, crisp copy of the same book and swap him out. :-D

  7. I have strong feelings about dog-eared pages (hate) but not so much on the creased spines. Though I absolutely refuse to display paperbacks. I’ve been known to repurchase favorites in hardback specifically for display/posterity. Though with the rate I’m going on my Kindle, I might have to bronze that for display/posterity as well – hah!

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