Why I Break The Spines of Books

Last week, my dearest, most darlingest readers, I wrote about my right brain’s sometime conflict with my left brain.ย  I used examples from my sordidly disorganized past, juxtaposed (ooh! big word!) with tales from my less messy present, to show that somehow, the two sides of my brain are learning to work together.

Pondering this ambi-brained-ousness reminded me of something particularly nit-picky I used to do but have abandoned in these, my wiser years.ย  (Insert guffaws here.)ย  So, here’s another look inside the mind of Courtney; please, pardon the dust bunnies and random (memory) holes in the floor, and do watch out for low-hanging whatnots and any underfoot baubles or doohickeys.

Behold! Beauty! Pristine perfection!

The Girl Who Ate the Book

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Courtney who loved books. She read pretty much anything she could get her hands on, and she devoured it all without ever getting her fill.

She borrowed books from friends and family. She bought new ones (books, that was, not friends or family) whenever she could scrape together enough cash to make a trip to the bookstore worthwhile. She brought the books home, tucked them into their special (alphabetized) places, and read each one in its turn. Her every book received its due attention and care, and all was well with Courtney’s reading world.

But, as is so often the case in utopias, there was a slight problem. You see, Courtney was something of a hypocrite concerning her books: She felt at ease in asking to borrow others’ books, but she was terribly reluctant to loan out her own treasures. Her selfishness didn’t extend to saying “NO!” when others asked to borrow a book…but she did feel a heaviness of heart and a quiet sort of desperation as the friend or family member in question departed with the loan.

You see, Courtney had rules for her books. And even though she tried to impress upon others the importance of following each rule, few people ever took her concerns seriously.

Don’t get the book wet.
Don’t get the book dirty.
Don’t write in it.
Don’t turn down pages.
Don’t dog-ear the pages.
And, whatever you do,

Courtney would admit (privately) that most of her friends and family could handle most of the rules. Nobody ever got one of her books wet. There might have been a single incident of a friend’s returning a book with a smudge of grime on the cover. Turned-down pages were a rarity. The dog-ears posed a greater challenge to the borrowers; but Courtney cooed over these returns and patiently folded each and every dog-eared corner back into place.

Alas, however, the most important rule was also the most difficult rule to obey. And once it was broken, there was no fixing the result.

When Courtney bought a new book and brought it home, she treated it with such care that, when she was finished reading it, it still looked as though it had just come off the shelf at the bookstore. Courtney never dog-eared the pages. Above all else, she never broke the spines. Her bookshelves were row after row of pristine, smooth, unbroken paperback glory. She read her books over and over, and not a single one looked used. Her bookshelves could have been featured in magazine articles on How To Make Books Last.

This, of course, meant that she read each book half-open, squinting at the pages and turning the book to and fro as she tried to decipher the words hidden in shadow closest to the spine. But who cared? The effort was so very worth it, when she could look at her pure, perfect bookshelves and know that all was right with her world!

Courtney, to the detriment of right honorable ideals of literacy and self-perpetuating inspiration, expected others to treat her books the same way she treated them. Whilst handing a loaner book to an as-yet-unsuspecting fellow bibliophile, she went to great pains to explain her reasoning concerning her rules. As she spoke, she didn’t seem to notice the increasingly deer-in-headlights look that swept the listener’s face. She certainly didn’t see when those eyes glazed over. All she knew was that she was making her rules quite clear, and she was doing it with a smile.

A well-devoured novel

When the loaned-out book came back with its spine creased, she felt devastated. The poor, precious book! White, ragged lines marred the former pristineness! Of course, of course, the book would be forever beautiful because of what was inside it…but those marks, those tiny cracks, those fractures would never mend. The treasure was tarnished. Past hope, past help.

Then, one day, Courtney grew up, figured out what “devouring” a book really meant, got the stick out of her you-know-where, and started breaking book spines the way a wild animal cracks the bones of its prey to get at the marrow inside. Her friends and family heaved sighs of relief, started asking to borrow books again (for they’d stopped doing so after all of Courtney’s put-upon complaints and sorrowful looks), and everybody lived happily ever after.


8 thoughts on “Why I Break The Spines of Books

  1. I’m so glad the story had a happy ending! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t think I could’ve ever borrowed a book from you…I’ve always been rough with my reading material.

    But seriously, I am a bit surprised at the level of OCD-ness one of your right-brained stature could sustain! ๐Ÿ™‚ (And yes, I have plenty of my own OCD-isms.)

    • Becca, looking back on it all, I’m kind of surprised about it, too! All I can say is that as I’ve embraced my writer self and learned to love the part of me that is Unabashedly Creative, I’ve loosened up about quite a few things!

      I still have to alphabetize the books, though. And you’re more than welcome to borrow anytime! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Karim says:

    In my childhood days, me and a friend were the two “drawing talents” of the classroom.
    We were fierce competitors, and we had pretty much the same rules! My friend was the “realist drawer” rockstar, and I was the “anime drawer” guru.

    But my friend was a bit more methodical than me: he simply refused to share some of his peaces, and when I could convince him to let me take one of his dearest creations home to study them, he wouldn’t let me touch them without building a kind of “translucid plastified shell armor” so that he makes sure they’ll survive any desastrous accident!

    While I never protected my creations that much, I always shared them without thinking too much, but I admit that was not really smart since they were sometimes damaged severely, and I couldn’t always replicate them (inspiration), but I can say that while time passed, I got better and better, and one day I became a better drawer than him, that’s where he started to suggest I take some of his bestest drawings : )

    The point is, whatever you are good at, and whatever your gifts are, just don’t miss the occasion to share whenever possible, the rewards are just as generous.

    Thank you courtney for this beautiful story, I don’t really know what it is but I was feeling strange (but good) since I started reading the very first of your written words.

    • Karim, thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment! And you hit the nail on its proverbial little noggin when you said that sharing leads to generous rewards. Creativity breeds creativity — it can’t help but do so. I chuckled at your friend’s โ€œtranslucid plastified shell armor.โ€ I understand his need to protect his work…but imagination can’t grow and expand unless we allow it freedom!

      Thank *you* for sharing your story, Karim, and thank you for your kind words about mine. It’s good to know my words have a positive effect, even if it is strange. (I’m okay with that.) ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Anthony says:

    Oddly, I felt the same way about book spines getting cracked (I no longer do, not because of other people borrowing my books, but just because I broke enough myself on accident that I stopped caring) as you, but I also used to be a terrible dog ear-ist (dog earer?).

    I never understood why people needed to use bookmarks when all you had to do was flip a corner down and be good to go. Then I had a girlfriend who broke me of that habit by being genuinely upset every time I did it. It wasn’t worth the arguments that would ensue, so I changed my ways. And I must admit, I’m happier for it.

    Whether you keep things pristine or crack more spines than a mafia hitman, the best part about both sides of this debate is how passionate people are about their books, even if that passion qualifies as borderline mania.

    • Oh, let’s go with “dog-earist.” It has a certain ring to it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Anthony, thanks so much for commenting! I can well relate to your girlfriend’s dismay at finding the corners of pages turned down. I’ve loosened up about that over the years, but I still feel a little twinge inside when I come across a dog-eared fiction novel. Strangely enough, I don’t care of non-fiction books have turned-down pages — sometimes, when reading non-fiction, I’ll even turn down those corners myself!

      But you’re right: The point is for us all to show our passion for the written word, whether we’re manic about it or not! ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. SouthRider says:


    I am 57 years old. When I was in the 3rd grade our teacher (who seemed ancient, but was probably in her late 60’s) devoted an entire session of class on how to get a new book ready to read.

    She took a brand new textbook and carefully & precisely broke the spine in a methodical manner in front of the entire class, carefully describing her work as she went.

    Begin in the approximate center of the book, then work your way to the front 10 or 15 pages at a time, making individual breaks with each handful of pages. Then repeat the process going from the center of the book to the rear.

    For whatever reason this lesson “stuck” with me, and I have been doing exactly that with any new book or magazine I obtain for almost 50 years now.

    FYI – I wouldn’t DREAM of doing it to someone else’s book though.

    • SouthRider,

      Ha! That makes a lot of sense to me: not just breaking the spine of a book out of sheer enthusiasm for the contents, but preparing the book for in-depth reading beforehand. Maybe I’m “reaching” a little, but that seems like a good time for mental preparation, too. “As I prepare this book in order to consume it, I am preparing my mind and heart to receive whatever goodness this book has to offer.” Like cleansing the palate before a hearty meal. : )

      But, of course, I wouldn’t dream of doing this to someone else’s book without their approval, either!

      Thanks for sharing your experience here, and I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to answer! Seems the comment notification got lost in my inbox.

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