To Dogear or Not to Dogear: That is the Question
Pictured above is a sign of a good book. For me, this can only ever happen to a paperback. A certain quantity of ink has been spilled on pages as well, highlights like breadcrumbs tracing my thinking back from the pages that inspired it.
Hardcovers must never suffer such indignity, however, and it’s a curious testimony to the relative value I place on the difference between the two. The last time I tried to dogear a hardcover book, I immediately felt as if I’d committed an unpardonable sin and immediately regretted it. A page once dogeared can never be undogeared. It didn’t matter that the book was used, a library discard with stickers all over it (albeit which I painstakingly removed with rubbing alcohol) with a slightly warped rear cover.
Hardcover books to me are automatically placed on the continuum of art, particularly if the binding rewards the nose. Art is an appeal to the senses and a well produced hardcover book has both tactile and olfactory qualities going for it, which package the intellectual matter in a way that I believe approximates Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”). Only where for Wagner this presumed an auditory medium, whether music or spoken drama, in the case of a beautiful hardcover book the medium is the physical matter of the book, and the choirs on stage are replaced by the printed words which, in distinction from an opera, can be revisited at the reader’s leisure, time and again, for as long as the volume remains in his library.
This distinction in turn raises the question of the purpose of reading—for enjoyment? for retention of information? for an aesthetic experience? Or, as is usually the case with habitual readers, some combination of all three.
The copiously dogeared book in question is one of C.S. Lewis’ final published works, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. As the photo suggests, it’s been one of the most informative reads I’ve undertaken in a long time, beautifully and succinctly illuminating the Medieval mind which can often seem opaque to modern readers, and in particular dwelling on the Model of the cosmos assumed in all Medieval and Renaissance literature and art.
What, then, if the book had been a first edition hardcover rather than a trade paperback? (Yes, I am maybe a little ashamed to admit I don’t reserve this treatment solely for mass market paperbacks.) In that case I would have been forced to rely on note-taking and maybe even mobile phone photos of relevant citations. The book’s status as a work of art would have necessitated measures much more elaborate; however the extra energy expended on internalizing the information would likely have contributed to retention. Art wins again.
What are your book-marking preferences? Do you go the route of total abstention, do you not discriminate between hardcover and paperback in your book-marking, or do you maintain some compromise between the two extremes like I do? Have you ever thought about why you do it this way?