Today I want to talk about one of those things that every time I mention the automatic response I receive is jaw-dropping, eye-popping shock: I can’t read used books.
Okay, “can’t” might be the wrong word. I am sure if all the publishing companies in the world suddenly disappeared and we were only left with whatever books are currently in existence to read then I would probably force myself to get over it and actually read a book that has been previously read by someone else. BUT, until we reach that point: I can’t read used books.
Now, this might not be news to some of you. I’ve briefly mentioned it in a bookish confessions post in the past, and it has been brought up on Twitter. But still, it’s one of those things that I’ve been thinking about lately as I’ve joined a book club where people are constantly trading books and trying to push the books they don’t want onto others. (I’m not quite sure when they’ll finally give up asking me since they know the answer will always be no, but I appreciate the thought nonetheless.)
So why? Why do I have this aversion to reading a book that has been read by someone else?
Well, if you happened to read my post about “right” ratings and “perfect” books, you’ll know that I see reading as a partnership between reader and writer. When reading a story, we put our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences into the story and it affects how we interpret what we’ve read. I think most people can agree that’s an easy enough statement to make, and one that we can all agree upon in one way or another.
Where it’s different for me is that I sort of feel like that when I put myself into a book, I’m sort of there forever. (Okay, as if I didn’t think I was crazy before, typing this out makes me realize I’m definitely a bit of a nutter.) I sort of feel like a piece of who I was at that time has gone into the book, and what I’ve read of that book has changed me in a little way in return. In effect, there’s sort of like this personal connection that I form between myself and that book. And I feel like each person does this, whether they think
This connection with a book leads to two things: I don’t like ever giving up my books and I don’t like reading anyone else’s books.
I feel like books are such a personal thing that each book I read I desperately want to hang onto. I want it in my personal library so I can turn around and easily see all the books that affected me growing up and helped make me who I am. I want it to be there so when I have children and they grow up they can see what I was interested in as a teen and adult and can laugh at me or admire my taste. I want it there so if I ever have a bad day I can look back and grab an old friend.
In a way that can be hard because it means every book I read I want to keep, and we all know that books take up quite a bit of room. Plus, I’m currently split between two countries. All the books I’ve read in the US are still sitting in boxes back at my parent’s, and all the books I’ve read in the UK have been following me everywhere I go – no matter how inconvenient. What I’m going to do once I’m forced to live in one country or the other, I have no idea. I’d personally prefer to store them somewhere forever in a different country just to be there when I get back and rather than give them up. (Really, something is wrong with me.)
But wait, let’s get back to the main point of this discussion. Just like I keep my books because I have formed a connection with them, I don’t like to read books read by others because I don’t want their… connection?
When I know a book has been used, I have no desire to read it. To see a person’s dirt marks, crumbs, etc. To see the creases where they’ve folded the pages. It feels like someone has violated my book. Like it’s no longer pure. I feel like I can’t fully connect to a book if it’s been read before because something always catches my eyes that alerts me someone else has read it and I find myself thinking about that person instead. It becomes a different reading experience in a way, but one that takes away from my reading experience rather than adds to it. And then I just don’t feel like that book is wholly mine – because it wasn’t, before.
Of course, there is no way for me to know for sure if a book has been read, and this is all really in my head. I know there are some people who read books at bookstores before someone else buys them, or even that someone might have a read a book that they’ve given to me as a gift. I’m okay with that – as long as I don’t know about it. The second I do, I just have a general dislike for the book, and I put all my unread untouched books ahead of that one.
And, I have t o admit, life would be much easier if I were to get over this. A library is a magical place that not only would make my space problem much easier but also save me money. But I just have this mental block. I can’t do it. Someone, help me!