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The Dog-Ears of Summer

April 29, 2010 | 23 Comments

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Hi! Would you please say something about people who fold or mangle or dog-ear the pages in a library book instead of using a bookmark. I recently finished your Christmas book (loved it!) and am now reading your book about Lutherans, and in both of them someone had consistently folded the pages back to save their place (what a loser!!) Obviously a pet peeve of mine, but I was an English major for three years before switching to philosophy. Thanks.

Kate P.
Missoula, MT


An author is so grateful to have readers that somehow I can't find it in my heart to condemn those who fold or mangle — it's as if you lived alone in the forest and you got visitors for the first time in years and you loved their company, their conversation, but you criticized their poor table manners. Sometimes people bring me books to autograph and I can see only too clearly that the book is unread. And then I see, written in pencil on the title page, "$1–" — they bought a remaindered book that they want me to sign and they didn't even bother to mangle it a little bit to make it look read. Of course I don't say anything, but nonetheless — an author craves readers, and if some of them are rough with the book, well, it's better than sitting undisturbed on the library shelf.



I love your reply.

I'm a pre-school teacher and I have some hard cover children's books that are literally falling apart. Kids are rough on books -- lots of tape required to keep them repaired.
Each time I see a book that is less than perfect, I imagine how
yet another child has (perhaps) begun a life's path that includes regular reading.

Oh how I hope they keep reading books...

San Clemente, CA


I, too, am happy you responded as you did. I had a sister who was a librarian who was kind of a fiend on the habit of dog-earring books. But, then there are people like me...I have bought literally hundreds of bookmarks in my life. Where they all disappear to, I can't say. They have probably set up housekeeping with all my lost socks. So, I fold the page edges down. Maybe I started buying paperbacks years ago so at least I was only "mangling" my own books. I don't have house space for more at this point, though. And, in my defense, if I DO fold down the page corner in a library book - I straighten it out when I move past that point.

Sign me.... a lifetime book addict!

I agree with you Garrison. However I draw the line at people underlining, annotating and/or removing pages from library books. That's like visiting you in the forest and sleeping with your wife.

I, too, enjoyed your reply. It just goes to show you there's more than one way to look at every issue.
Kate's reference to her switch from "English major" to "philosophy" could imply she is still in school and therefore only has access to your books through a library. Hopefully, her education will result in landing a career with a great salary so she can buy her own copies of your works in the future. In the mean time, she may want to put them on her holiday lists.
Oh, and it pains me to think that any GK or PHC fan would refer to another as "a loser"...I guess that's my "pet peeve".
Good luck, Kate!

Lehigh Valley, PA

I am currently reading Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes and translated by Edith Grossman. It is such a good book that I can hardly put it down but I find that the book has been abused in so many ways. The front cover has fallen off and now I am debating whether I should have the book bound in leather.

I disagree with Bill Carpenter. Serious readers, especially those who draw inspiration from what they read and translate it into their own writing, have to underline and annotate although I think removing pages from a book is a sin. As to folding the page over to mark where someone has left off in their reading, I think this is better than a book mark because a book mark I find puts pressure on the binding, especially if the book is a paper back or poorly put together. That is my two cents.

Best regards,
Felipe Barreda

I now have a KINDLE but hide it among real books. I've been one to comment, highlight, asterisk, star and occasionally interrobang a book's passages. that I have passed on to friends. I have passed such books on with the specific request that they write, doodle & comment in it, themselves. A few times a book has come back to visit me and I wished it well after noting its smudges and different colored commentary and passed it on again. It is a form of love to wear it out completely. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I guess.

Folding pages,,,should not do this in a borrowed book,,,making notes on margins...not in something that is not your the book moves you enough to do this....Buy your own copy...and tell the librarian you enjoyed reading hers...but,,,
I just finished Pilgrims....It is just delightful...I love the mixture of the Lutherans and the Catholics...just like home to me.

And,,,Mr. K....if I ever sit beside you on travels....I will just tell you how very much I admire and love you....and let it go at that. and I will take my half of the arm rest....

Your tolerance is enormous...thanks for being in this world and setting such a good example...we all have foibles (a nice word for awful habits) and seeking perfection is a setup for failure....miss the lesbian characters you wrote and used so wonderfully years ago in your trips to New York please consider bringing some back once in a while ...the toll of political correctness claims another laugh a former English teacher and always English major: enjoy the rest of your touring!

Wonderful reply. When I went back to school late in life, I formed great friendships, especially in the English and Literature classes. Due to a family illness, I had to move away from those dear friends, but we still stay in touch. For my 62nd birthday one of those friends sent a biography to me of an author we all got a lot of miles from. I dog-ear pages so that when I get a moment to talk to my friend, we can share what moved us, inspired us, or what we questioned. I go back to those dog-earred pages and passages sometimes just to savor the words that remind me of the past, the present and the future. Like my friends, those bent pages are my reminders and remembrances of the losses and gifts of my life.

So...then, you as an author would not be particularly perturbed if I wrote notes in the margins and underlined particularly good phrases in your books? Some sentences or phrases are just too good to "lose" in the pages...I love to find them again easily.

Personally, I use a business card for a bookmark so if I ever leave a book in an airport or coffee shop it might find its way home. Still, I buy a lot of used books and a pristine book worries me that the purchaser didn't care for it enough to finish. Not to mention looking for the dog-eared pages to find the "good" parts. (Be sure and read page 178!)

Holy cow, you didn't even mention that an author would rather (presumably -- at least I would) have readers buy the book than borrow it! And I apologize for having you sign brand new books. When I love a book, I respect it, and try to preserve it as pristinely as possible.

All these delightful responses to a delightful response underscore for me the notion that the Kindle and other R2-D2 style reading devices will (and MUST) fail! A book is organic, derived from living things (ya' don't like it, plant a tree for every book you read and shut yur yap!), and chock full of ideas and principles and flights of fancy.

An e-reader is a glorified calculator. Fiction cannot live on a pulsating abacus.

End of story.


Kid-Gloves Save Books:

I donate good books to libraries. As for dog-ears: one good reason not to do this with library books is that they may be discarded without being replaced.

Mr Keillor
I fully understand your feelings in enjoying seeing a book (specially of yours) that has been well read.
On a personal level I prefer to be able to replace the book on my own shelves rather than have to return it to a library and for this reason I prefer to go out an buy the book. I also understand you noting that the book may have been purchased as a "remainder" from the shop, I have a couple of novels on my shelves that I would not be without regardless of the fact that I stumbled upon them as well discounted and almost unsalable works.

those annoying inserts that fall out of magazines make excellent bookmarks.

I work in a library, and witness first-hand the abuse books suffer at the hands of patrons. What you do to your own books is your business. But, if you don't own it, you shouldn't highlight passages, or jot phone messages in it, edit it, eat over it, step on or drive over it....or fold the page corners. It's not hard to find a bookmark -- a business card, junk mail, post-it, a leaf or a piece of string will do the job. Patrons leave some very interesting items in the books they return; we always try to get nice bookmarks or personal items back to their owner.

My mother read tirelessly all of her life and was an English Major and journalist from the late '40's. After kids and career, while living alone her final twenty-five years, (and finally able to afford her own library), she took up the practice of dialoging with the authors through lively annotations. She was especially keen to offer fiery critique to non-fiction writers. What a delightful peek into a brilliant, crotchety mind.

But don't even mess around with Public Library books!

I have a beautiful celtic designed metal 'clip' bookmark I bought in the De Young museum - it has travelled the world with me. I was devastated last year when I lost it - left in the middle of a library book that was too boring to finish (not one of yours GK). Over the next few months, bits of string, buisness cards, junk mail and the like wasn't the same, and *gasp* *horror* I did dog ear a few corners. But beloved bookmark came back to me after a few months, in different library book! Someone at my library shares my taste in reading... and gets bored in the same spots!

Twenty one years ago my new boyfriend sent me a postcard from the Grand Canyon. We've now been married 20 years and I have used that postcard as a bookmark ever since.

My books tell the story of my life. For starters, I buy my books so I needn't worry about fines for over-due nor feel guilty for schlepping them around with me which tends to give them a lived-in look. I write the date of the acquisition, condition, price, new/used, and where purchased inside the front cover. If it's a new book I just can't put down, it will look nearly new when I finish because I have sat in my reading chair at every spare moment and into the night. If the condition is 'good used' and it looks not-so-good used, I've carried it around with me. The stains--tea, wine, sauce--can have multiple meanings from it was so good I read even while eating to a cat jumped in my lap as I was taking a sip. The wheres remind me of places I've traveled or lived.

You might enjoy a comic strip called Unshelved, about the daily weirdities of a public library. According to the creators of this strip, bacon (yes, bacon, sometimes cooked, sometimes raw) has repeatedly been reported to them by real public librarians across the country as something found in returned library books, apparently having been used as a book mark.

In the same vein, as it were--many years ago, I worked in a small public library in the Idaho panhandle and saw a how-to book on butchering come back with large blood stains across many pages.

Just to put the dog-earing in perspective.

I can't agree with you more. An author don't respect readers; then readers won't respect her. I will ask all my friends not to read her books.

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