Monday, 16 August 2010

The dog ate my library book

Would you believe some friends of mine never darken the doorstep of their local library? 

'I love the smell of new books," says Bambi*. "That's why I never go to libraries."

It's a common misconception that library books are as  tattered, torn as a tart's tights. Not true! Here in Wirralia we get new books in all the time - and those that stagger back to us having fallen foul of the rougher type of borrower are resuscitated using special, librarian CPR:

  • Cleaning
  • Pritt stick
  • Re-labelling
A lady brought a book back the other day which had been savaged by a puppy. Strangely, she wasn't the same lady who has a note on her account when you scan her card saying: 'Check books for teeth marks'.

(Did I mention? Vampire books are almost as popular as serial killer books in Wirralia.)

I've written before about some of the fates that can befall the written word.  Old library lags tell of books being returned having shared bags with fish or dirty nappies. And a good blockbuster makes an amusing coaster for your drinks, don't you think?  Or a goal for an impromptu game of football? Or a plate?

We do our best to keep things clean. But are pristine books what we should be striving for? Does that not imply they have never been read? At home, I'm forever buying books and then not reading them - I've had books for thirty years and never opened the covers. 

I'm reading Best of Myles just now - an anthology of Flann O'Brien's early columns in the Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. He suggested a solution to books looking unread: "Why should a wealthy put to the trouble of reading at all? Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much a shelf?"

He proposed a graduated scale from 'popular' ("four leaves of each to be dog-eared, and a tram ticket, cloak room docket or comparable article inserted in each as a forgotten bookmark. Say £2 17s 6d. Five per cent discount for civil servants") to 'Le Traitment Superb' which involved passages underlined in good quality red ink, notes in margins ("Yes, but cf Homer, Od., iii, 151") and forged inscriptions from the author: "From your devoted friend and follower, K. Marx")

I can't help wondering if some of our borrowers may have employed similar services. Perhaps they think we'll look down our noses if we think they haven't thoroughly read  the books they borrowed?

But dogs?  As Myles points out: "Novice handlers, not realising that tooth-marks on the cover of a book are not accepted as evidence that its owner has read it, have been known to train terriers..."

What do YOU think?

Do you only really love a book that is still unsullied by human hand/eye/other parts of the anatomy?  Do you want to know others have enjoyed it or is a desirable slim volume dead to you once its spine has been bent, it's corners fondled, and there is herbage growing out of it? 

Related posts: Don't touch the sticky books.

* Names have been changed, but this friend was once described by another as 'like Bambi on ice' which immediately became one of my favourite similes.


  1. I don't mind a book that looks used as long as it isn't grimy.

    But this reminds me of a book I took back to the library. My dog had indeed chewed on the cover so I went in to buy the book. The librarian, a fairly young girl took my money and then proceeded to tug the book away from me.

    I said, "Hey, wait a minute. I paid for the book."

    She looked at me like I was insane. "It belongs to the library,' says she.

    Meanwhile the head librarian strolls by and asks what the problem is. The young girl tells her and the older woman rolls her eyes. "Give the lady her book. She paid for it."

    Which leads me to wonder...was the girl going to put it back on the shelves?

    PS I still have that book. :)

  2. Dash. I wrote a long comment. Pushed 'post comment'. Screen moved on, so I clicked to return to my blog - just as I saw the screen moving on to wv. I do dislike these two stage comment columns.

  3. During my days in libraryland we used to apply the bedworthy test to the stock. If staff wouldn't take a book to bed because of its condition then why would we expect users to do same?

    Years ago we had a lady who was queen of the repairs. She sat in a dark corner, high on book-cleaning fluid and doing wonderful things with a knitting needle and a jar of Copydex.

  4. I've been selling some of my old non-fiction book collection on Amazon, and the ones which are annotated go first. Mind you, I guess someone might be hoping for a tip or two. (They'll be disappointed.)

  5. Sorry. Just come back and realise my earlier comment looks a bit petulant. My excuse is I'm in some pain (kidney stones) and was a bit annoyed that I had wiped my very long and erudite comment. Well, long.

  6. Yeah, that's what my cats do to papers and magazines round the home all the time.... Including a copy of my latest zine (yum!) Next time I run off some photocopies I think I might draw an arrow on the cover to the spot the cats nibbled on and write in small letters 'the cat ate it.'

    Once I dropped a school library book in the pond at home. We swiftly microwaved it, and had to replace the contact. All that we had was an old bread bag... the librarian was NOT impressed.

  7. I have a number of books in my collection that are slightly foxed, and some that even the hunting lobby wouldn't pursue. Among the most bent & tattered is a single-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings that was released as a tie-in edition to the 1978 Ralph Bakshi rotoscoped film (of the first 1 1/2 books in the trilogy - don't ask).

    I now have the three individual volumes, but, though the original edition is bent, battered and torn almost beyond recognition, I can't bring myself to part with it. I bought that 1978 edition on a Friday night and read it until 4am on the Sunday before I finished it and went to bed. That's a memory too good to deaccession.

  8. Maria - great story! You probably foxed her by offering to buy the book without being asked/begged/threatened!

    Dave - I'm so sorry you had troubles. I think the only way I can stop it being two-stage is to remove the word-verification - which I would do if it was only the spam, but I like the WV tomfoolery too. Hmmm. May take it off anyway - I feel I've missed out on your epic comment now 8-(

    Christine - I love the 'bedworthy' test - I shall attempt to bring it into polite usage in Wirralia. And we, too, have a 'fixer'!

    Fran - maybe people only write on the best ones?

    TimT - I'm well impressed by your resourcefulness - haven't heard of the microwave and bread bag technique - but I'd better not tell our 'fixer' as it might send her over the egde!

    Tim J - I don't need to ask - that film was my first intro to LOTR and the ring wraiths were genuinely scary even if some parts looked a bit Disney. Loved John Hurt as Aragorn's voice and waited in vain for part two... still haven't read the book though! *blushes*