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.