Why I prefer to read damaged books

The BookDepository

Last night the Giller Prize winner was revealed as The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud. I love the Giller Prize, but unfortunately it normally takes a while for these Canadian books to make it across to the UK (Annabel will be the first from the short list to reach UK shores – in March 2011). I am used to waiting to read the Giller winner, but it seems that many people in Canada are upset about having to wait. The publisher, Gaspereau Press, is very small and initially only printed 800 copies of the book. Once it was short listed they started printing 1000 copies a week, but were unable to keep up with demand.  Gaspereau Press hand-make each copy to a high standard and are refusing to outsource production as this would lower the quality of the book. Publisher Andrew Steeves is ignoring demands to mass produce the book claiming:

The reader who is here today will be here in three weeks.

I admire his desire to make each of his books beautiful, but I think I’m one of the few book lovers who prefers scruffy books. For me the beauty is in the words and I don’t care if the copy I am reading is damaged. In fact I prefer it.

I love to look at well designed books, but I’m scared to read them. I hate damaging immaculate books and carefully reading a beautiful book is a little bit stressful for me. I far prefer to have a well-read paperback that I can throw in my bag, read in the bath and otherwise abuse. Guilt free.

Guilt Free Paperback

I am a bit odd in that I can never damage a book, but sometimes buy the roughest copy available as I know I’ll then be able to fully enjoy the words without worrying about opening the book too far and creasing the spine.

Am I the only one with this weird habit?

Would you prefer to wait for a beautiful book or just read the words now?

Send to Kindle


  1. Laura says:

    Jackie, for me it depends. I read a lot of used books which as you know can range from pristine to falling apart. I rarely buy hardbound editions unless I’m really keen to read it now (Room for example), or I know it’s a “keeper” for my library. Similarly, if I’m looking for a book that I know I want to have in my permanent collection, I try to find it in the best condition possible. But if it’s just a quick read that I’m likely to swap later, I really don’t care!

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, I don’t mind if my keepers are well loved either. I prefer to be able to lend out my favourites without worrying they will come back damaged. I am weird!

  2. Amy says:

    I love a shiny new fancy book… but I’m not afraid to toss it around in my bag or the bathtub. I like a well-read book! BUT I dislike lending books and having someone else mess it up too much. And by too much I mean, say, my roommates mom dropping a favorite book of mine in the bathtub. Minor damage is fine by me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Other peoples books worry me as much as shiny new ones – I am so scared I’ll damage them. I would never dream of putting someone elses book anywhere near my bath – I prefer to have my own bashed up copies for that!

  3. I used to much prefer a fancy new copy (not that i could ever afford one!) but these days, I don’t care, and I’d rather not have to worry about getting toast crumbs of tea or bath water on it, so battered is good. Most of the books I buy are second hand, and most of the new books I get now are presents or review copies. I still prefer not to get an edition with a cheesy movie-poster cover design, though – new or second-hand!

    1. Jackie says:

      Valerie, I don’t mind about the cheesy movie-poster if I’ve seen the film. If I haven’t then I don’t like it as it means that I picture the characters as the actors, not as the book describes them.

  4. Steph says:

    I love viewing books as objects of interactive art. I really appreciate it when publishers take the time to make books more than just sheaves of paper glued together. It doesn’t bother me if these books ultimately look read as I do think books are meant for reading, but in my mind, making books into interesting, intricate objects is one of the things that will keep “traditional” publishing afloat. In cases where I only want the words (rather than a multi-sensory experience), an ebook will do, but when it comes to a much beloved book (like anything by Jane Austen!), the prettier the better!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I love well produced books, but I do see them more as art than books. I haven’t got an ereader yet, but can see that in the future publishers will have to pay more attention to the physical appearance of books if they want to sell hard copies.

  5. Anastasia says:

    I’m the same way! And for the longest time I wouldn’t write in my books, either, even if I was reading them for school. Then sometime last year (I think for my Virginia Woolf class) I just said “screw it” and started scribbling and underlining and everything. I think that’s helped with my worry about “messing up” new books, because now I don’t worry about it SO much. Although I do still worry about breaking spines, haha!

    1. Jackie says:

      Anastasia, I won’t write in books either. When I was at school I used loads of coloured post-it-notes, but I’m sure I’d have made my life easier if I’d have just written in them. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to write in my own books :-)

  6. Shannon says:

    I didn’t know about this until last night when I went online to check the winner. I was wondering why my library had no copies on order (it is Toronto after all.) I can understand that being a smaller publisher and being committed to hand printing that they would not want to outsource the publishing. But this is our biggest literary prize and I think it’s doing a disservice to Canadian readers who can’t read the book. A quick search on the Indigo/Chapters website shows no copies in any stores in Toronto. If the book hadn’t won the Giller, I probably wouldn’t have bothered looking for it.

    As for damaging books, I love books not because of how they look but what’s inside of them. My books go everywhere with me so it’s safe to say they get damaged. Plus, I have kids, and a baby who loves books but doesn’t know the difference between his board books and my novels. All the work they put into making the book beautiful will just be ruined.

    I’d much rather have the book now to read then have to wait for a beautiful copy that will most likely be ruined. I think now that the book has won the Giller, they should outsource some of it and give us readers the option of mass produced or hand printed. I’m sure there is a market for both.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I’m torn on this one. I love the idea of the publisher sticking to his ideals, but also feel sorry for all those who just want to read the book. I’m happy to wait to read a book, but I agree that having choice would be best for consumers. Good luck in your search for a copy :-)

  7. jane says:

    Oh, I like both! Am currently loving reading the beautiful new translation of Dr Zhivago – only available in expensive, luxurious, thick-leaved hardback. It’s a joy to hold let alone to read. But I do have visions of accidentally getting hummus on it. Always hummus, I’m not sure why.

    But I also love OLD books, ones with a story and a history, owners who’ve come before me. I was in Ethiopia over the summer and in Addis Ababa there is a second hand book stall. Actually there are a couple. Most of what they sell are old books of communist speeches and books about Lenin (very odd, and i’m not really sure why), and noone except me ever seemed to go there. But I bought a wonderful old orange Penguin copy of Cakes and Ales (amazing book!!) and a copy of John Fowles’ brilliant the French Lieutenant’s Woman. This latter book was made all the more special and exciting and representative of where I had bought it from by the fact that not only was it falling apart, but a creature had taken a bite out of one corner. It’s got teeth marks!!! What fun, I thought, this book has LIVED. And I emailed all my friends to tell them about my exciting book stall finds (I didnt get many responses…!). I was rather put off the peculiar romance of the chomped-upon book when I got to the last chapter and discovered that the little monster had EATEN the last two pages. They were almost entirely gone. I had to wait until I got back to England (two months later) and run straight to Foyles and read the conclusion of the tale (which, if you’ve not read it, or even if you have is absolutely and definitely the best bit).

    So, this cautionary tale doesn’t really bear much of a moral really – I still pounce upon second hand books at every chance I get, but I think I’ll be a little more suspicious of those bearing tooth marks in the future…

    1. Jackie says:

      Jane, I love your story :-) I’m not a fan of books that have been eaten by animals. I once found a book with book worm holes in it. It was interesting to see them for the first time, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable reading it. I hate finding squashed insects in books too :-(

  8. If I am going to buy a book and I have the money, I prefer it to be new–and then I take care of it as best I can. It’s unconscious for me as I never set out to take such care–but it comes naturally. It’s not uncommon for someone I’m loaning a book to to ask me if I even read it.

    Even so, I do buy used quite often and I am not so picky about condition; you are right, there is something freeing about being able to read a book that’s obviously been well loved and is worn. I’m less careful about those books when I read them, I confess.

    I agree that what is inside, the words on the pages, is what is most important. I am also a patient person and have such a large TBR collection that there is no telling when I will get to a book. I rarely read a book as soon as I purchase it anymore. So, I can’t say I have a problem with the publisher you mention wanting to produce a quality product. If the book is good enough and is one I want to keep around to reread over and over, I’d rather it be sturdy and well made rather than cheap and one that quickly falls apart. Plus, there’s something be said about the care that goes into making a book like that. I think it would be even more of a treasure. At least to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Literary Feline, I’m sure that I’ll read The Sentimentalists at some point, but I’m happy to wait for the cheap paperback to be produced. I’m interested to see the quality of this book and see if it really is a treasure. I rarely re-read books, so perhaps that is another reason why I don’t appreciate quality books.

  9. Sandy says:

    I appreciate a new book, but it doesn’t stay pretty for long, as I drag it everywhere. I guess I never thought about it that way, but junky books definitely take the stress out of the reading. Dog-ear away!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Perhaps if I was able to dog ear a book myself it wouldn’t be a problem. I feel so guilty about doing it :-(

  10. Claire says:

    I’m a librarian in Toronto, and we ordered a copy of this for my school library weeks ago. We have had many readers in this morning, looking to sign this book out – I hope they are as enthusiastic about the novel by the time it finally arrives! Also, as a librarian, I have had to get over the fact that once-beautiful books come back ragged, covered in coffee stains and falling apart – it happens very frequently!

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I would be very interested to see if the enthusiasm remains until copies are available. I hope that you get a copy in soon :-)

  11. Brenna says:

    You know I’m not sure that I realized until I read this post that I prefer some-what damaged books over brand new ones. Because, really, I do obsess over not creasing the binding or wrinkling any pages, but if the book is already used there is a softness about it that I do enjoy.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, it is good to know I’m not the only one who worries about this sort of thing :-)

  12. Anbolyn says:

    I am not immune to the beauty of a nicely new, fresh book with a stunning cover. In fact, I frequently covet books just for their looks. However, I agree with you about the words being the important part of the book. That is why I didn’t hestitate to buy a Kindle a few months ago, although sometimes I do miss the feel of paper and a gorgeous cover!

    1. Jackie says:

      Anbolyn, I’m not immune to attractive covers either – ones with gold embossing are especially hard for me to resist :-)

  13. David Nolan says:

    It seems I am in a minority among commenters so far, in that I prefer my books to be in as good condition as possible. Whilst it is obviously the content that matters most, I find that I am more likely to persevere with a difficult read if I like the look and feel of the book itself. Of course, there are some things that are just so good that they are a pleasure to read however brown the pages and however creased the spine may be.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, That is very interesting to know. I don’t think the cover or feel of a book would have any impact on how likely I am to persevere with a difficult read.

  14. Rob says:

    I agree that it’s stressful keeping a new book in perfect condition. Well read books are great for the beach here on Kauai (as long as the pages aren’t separating from the spine).

    1. Jackie says:

      Rob, It is especially important to have a damaged book on the beach – all that salt and sand would be a nightmare to keep away from pristine books :-)

  15. Okay, not me! I only like reading pristine, or like new books. In fact, sadly, I will not check out a worn book from the library, no matter how much I want to read it. I’ll buy a new copy if I want to read it that bad. For me it’s more of a germ thing….LOL (but honestly, I’m not a germ-a-phobe, nor do I have OCD)…..Just me and my quirky new book love.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bibliophile By the Sea, It sounds as though you are the opposite to me – I’m happy to check worn books out of the library :-)

  16. christina says:

    I am all about reading used books but I admit, water logged books are a big no-no.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christina, I’m not a big fan of waterlogged books either – the crinkly pages are quite annoying and I hate it if the pages stick together :-(

  17. sakura says:

    I like both, although a pristine copy always makes my heart flutter a little faster:) But I’m not really precious about my books unless 1) I absolutely love it and 2) it’s signed by a favourite author. Of course if I lend my books to people I expect it to come back in a similar state (some wear and tear is ok).

    1. Jackie says:

      Sakura, I struggle to bring myself to read books that are signed by the author – I often ending up getting another copy from the library just so I don’t risk damaging the signed copy :-(

  18. My opinion varies; sometimes I appreciate the fact that a book is untouched and lovely, and sometimes I am relieved that it’s worn in (especially if I want to drag it on a commute and don’t want to worry excessively about pulling it out of a shoulder bag). And of course there’s a certain charm to older books that have developed their own personalities!

    But when it comes to Gaspereau Press, I admire them for putting quality over quantity. I’ve bought a few of their books and they are not the too-nice-to-touch sort of beautiful (in my opinion, and defining beauty has to be a personal thing) but, rather, a respectful sort of beautiful. They are often dressed in textured covers with muted colours, the type seeming to recline on the page: taste and artistry and bookishness. I’ll take the real deal, please.

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint, I haven’t seen a Gaspereau Press book, but it is lovely to see your enthusiasm for them. I really want to see the text reclining on a page – you describe it so beautifully :-)

  19. Kathleen says:

    I am intimidated by beautiful books too. I like to take my books outside, in the bath tub, swimming pool, throw them in my purse, car,etc. etc.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I’m glad it isn’t just me :-)

  20. Christina says:

    I always hate reading new and pristine books! Which is terrible because most of my textbooks (including the novels) are new, and I always have to tell myself it’s okay to write in them. I’ll never understand why publishers will charge $100 for a book and then print it in paperback, which get damaged so easily. I much prefer buying books used so I don’t have to worry about damaging them by carrying them around in backpack and marking them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christina, I can’t bring myself to write in old books, let alone new books so I’m glad I don’t have to write essays on books any more :-)

  21. Charlie says:

    Thinking on it, I’m actually quite similar. I hate ruining books but if one comes to me damaged already then it’s less difficult to read – as in I’m not worrying about ruining it so can concentrate more on the story.

    I’d like the beautiful book but if a damaged copy is avaliable I’d happily read that and then if I love it I’ll buy the other version some time.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, It is good to know I’m not alone :-)

  22. Amanda says:

    I don’t PREFER damaged books, but I dont’ mind them, as long as they’re not TOO damaged. And I prefer to stay away from yellowed or smelly or smeary kinds of books, as they can damage my reading experience.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, I don’t mind books that have yellowed with age, but I’m with you on the smelly books. Luckily I haven’t come across many :-)

  23. Susan D says:

    Well, I’m more comfortable with an edition that reflects the book itself, with a decent cover picture, rather than something printed on acid based paper with generic cover art with totally unconnected characters (or darkish purple blobs and black background) and a misleading blurb.

    I guess that means I hope the publish has enough respect for the book, and the readers, to give it a worthwhile presentation.

    Meanwhile, I am number 840 on the hold list at the Toronto Public Library for The Sentimentalists. No copies yet on board.

    1. Jackie says:

      Susan, I hate misleading blurbs! I sometimes feel as though I have been tricked into reading a book that is nothing like its cover implies.

      Good luck in getting a copy of The Sentimentalists from the library, although I think you might be in for a long wait :-(

  24. Bina says:

    I’m really drawn to great cover design, but like you I prefer books that you can throw into your back and use the heck out of. Mostly, the cover image survives my treatment ;) But scruffy paperbacks feel so great to read, there’s more personality to them :)

  25. Yvann says:

    I’m the same – I actually much prefer to get a battered paperback than a new, or a hardcover, because then I feel much less guilty about throwing it in my handbag, and also it means that I don’t mind at all about getting rid of it if it’s not a keeper – which is helping to keep the size of my library down!

    I am quite happy to lend out battered copies but would not lend a new one – my mother lent out my father’s reasonable condition paperback copy of one of Len Deighton’s trilogies and it came back missing its back cover! He is livid. But this is part of the problem with lending out books, if I damaged someone’s book like that I would hunt high and low for a replacement copy!

    And I don’t usually borrow books from people, only from the library.

    One of the things I love about the library and Bookmooch is that you almost only get “pre-loved” books to abuse as you choose!

  26. I know what you mean, which is why I often have two versions of my favourite books – the nice hardback (a special edition, or signed) and the “casual” one. Completely crazy, I know, but it’s for the books I really love.

    Hoping that someone in my family was lucky enough to procure me a copy for xmas!

  27. stacybuckeye says:

    I love buying my books at used bookstores or library sales. A few favorite titles I might buy a nice, new pretty book that I’ll never read, but for the rest I like them a little beat up yoo :)

Leave a Reply