Out of the Dark


Elizabeth Creith

My mom always told me not to dog-ear books or lay them face-down on surfaces, or otherwise mistreat them. She presented this to me as the “proper” way to care for books. I now realize that my mother was embarrassed to tell me the real reason certain behaviours done.

It's about the “s” word. Yep, we’re talking book sex here.

I’m sorry, did that make you feel faint? Okay, put your head between your knees for a moment. Breathe. Yes, I know it’s shocking. So few of us have been given the real facts. But you can’t be protected from this forever, and it’s better that you hear it now, in a safe place, rather than learn it in the back stacks of some seedy library, or in one of those dubious used-book stores from a dirty old man or woman with half-moon glasses and papery skin.

Better? Sure? All right. It's like the rules we learned as kids about appropriate behaviour. Right in there with not picking your nose in public and saying “please” and “thank you” were prohibitions about body parts and playing doctor and stuff like that. If you thought it just wasn’t polite, then you didn’t ask awkward questions about “why not?” until one day—BAM! —the hormones hit and you figured out the real reason you weren’t supposed to show Dougie-next-door what was in your panties.

So here’s the dirty truth—when you lay those books face-down and leave them, they sneak around together and do things that make more little books. Yes, boys and girls, books reproduce in dark corners. When you take a book to bed to read and you leave it on the floor instead of putting it decently on a shelf, it sneaks away, usually under the bed, to see what else has been lurking there, fluttering its pages and up to No Good.

This, of course, accounts for why, no matter how many bookshelves you build or buy, there are always more books than shelf-space to hold them. It also accounts for the books you can’t remember buying, and some of those duplicate copies.

It’s time to get book sex out of the dark and into the light. We need a modern Gregor Mendel of the library to tell us what to expect when “The Golden Age of Trucks” is left face-down next to Foucault's Pendulum. (It doesn’t tell us what to do about mystical trucks and their arcane plots, but that seems like a whole other problem.)

In the meantime, get your books into shelves, people. Or at least, leave the ones on the floor closed. Preferably individually bagged.

Dog-earing? That's just bad manners. No, really. Trust me. Would my mom lie?

Books mentioned in this column:
Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco (Ballantine Books, 1988) 

Elizabeth Creith is a biblioholic and incurable librocubicularist. Not only does she buy, read, shelve and stack books, but she also writes them and on occasion makes them by hand. Elizabeth lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog, and cat. The Scriptorium is where she blogs about writing and life. Contact Elizabeth.



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