Bookish Pet Peeves

Pictures of full bookshelves make me happy. I think that’s generally true of most book lovers.

I’ve been hearing some opinionated book people on social media looking to validate their bookish pet peeves.

Here are a few examples, though I don’t agree with all of them:

Comic by Loryn Brantz
#727 by problemsofabooknerd

Pinned by Book Drunkard (original source unknown)

Social media tends to highlight those with the loudest opinions. I totally own up to finding extreme reactions to tiny things really funny! I did wonder, after seeing the comments, if these were commonly held feelings about book treatment.

I’m in a bunch of reading and writing groups on Facebook, so I put up a few polls. I was especially curious how writers felt compared to readers, and how they all compared to librarians.

Here’s what the writers had to say:

The readers were a bit stronger (but with less commentary):

And here’s what the librarians had to say:

I do have a few disclaimers about the poll results, which I’ll put at the bottom of the post, but the whole point here was to get a feel for how other readers/writers felt about how strangers treat books.

The input does raise a few more questions. What’s the difference between someone sensitive about how a book is handled and someone who easily lets go? Since this was focused on books that belong to someone else, what about the motivations for how someone treats their own collection?

Some of the comments were insightful. The writer group couldn’t just click an answer in the poll – most commented to clarify their position on the issue. Those comments were insightful, particularly one from Marjorie:

My take on this is from the perspective of a publisher as well as a writer.

WRITING is art. It is crucial to the boundaries of civilized society and separates us from… I dunno… every other species in the universe. (I have no evidence that Martians write, and until I do… there ya go.)

PUBLISHING (the creation of the actual books) is a business. They make lots and lots of copies of those book. Even if we do the whole POD (print on demand) thing, the writing is safe and secure in a database file so you can make another book with it anytime.

I spend several hours every Tuesday ripping the covers off mass market paperbacks so the retailer can get a refund on the return. It costs too much to mail the entire book back, so publishers only require the COVER of the book to prove it hasn’t been sold.

I have no heartache over this at all. Publishing is a nickel and dime business where profit margins are concerned, and if a mass market has been on the shelf for 3 weeks at a big box and nobody has bought it? Time t’go. Make room for something that WILL sell.

It’s business. It’s not personal. And there are thousands of other copies of the book rolling around out there. And if there isn’t? If nobody bought it at all? Huh. I’m wondering why they even wasted the glue on the spine. (I’m being snarky about that, because if it’s in a big box store, I promise you plenty of people bought a copy.)


She goes on to say she has sentimental copies of books that have been loved, repaired, annotated, and almost read to death, but books (for her) aren’t meant to live long lives ornamenting a shelf.

There’s another perspective to this that I need to preface before discussing healthy vs. unhealthy book collecting.

Hoarding is a complex thing, one that should not be taken lightly. Just like any behavior, gathering objects lies on a spectrum and if this is something causing you or your family concern, then it should be addressed by a qualified professional and worked through with a strong support system.

Books, newspapers, media of any kind are a temptation for many with these tendencies. I have a few family members inclined toward over-investing in things. I have friends who accumulate data and recordings the same way, and their collections require constant maintenance just to keep the material on accessible devices.

Personally, I steer away from bookstores unless I know exactly what I’m looking for. It’s a defense mechanism, against getting overwhelmed or “rescuing” more titles than I can afford from the clearance section. Honestly, a part of me shudders at books being tossed or destroyed even if there’s literally no one it can reach who wants to read it, or there are thousands of copies already in circulation. I want it. I want to read it and have an experience with it.

I once stood in the stacks at my University and honestly froze up at the terrible realization I will never have time enough to read everything I want to read. This thought has helped keep my shelves clean, tidy, and my permanent collection trim, but it doesn’t take the want away.

Fredric Neuman M.D. wrote a piece for Psychology Today called Books—And Hoarding. He begins by describing his own memories about books, how he grew up in a household with only two books. He recalls visiting the library frequently, but owning books became his personal vice. For him, the collecting wasn’t about rescuing them, it was his TBR (to be read) list taking over his home and his life.

I highly recommend reading it, even if it’s just a caution against letting the physical (or electronic) possession of a book take over your mental health.

On a more lighthearted note, how you treat your own books is completely up to you.

Whatever helps you use that book, do it. You can be reverent and careful with every page out of respect for the author, or if you plan to sell it or donate it when you’ve finished. You can download your stories or info rather than buying print as a favor to the environment. You can scribble on every page, if doodling helps you focus.

I’m in our friend Marjorie’s camp. A print book is an opportunity to interact with what you’re reading.

In one of my earliest creative writing courses, the head of the English department talked about learning to write by reading with intention. While I don’t remember his exact phrasing, he encouraged us to (metaphorically) take our crayons and paints into the art museums and make them our own. Add color to the statues, put paintings in a new style, and take apart the works to figure them out at their simplest levels.

I tend to take the books I’ve purchased and scribble away. I have a highlighter and a pen handy (ideally), along with some stickie notes. My bookmarks aren’t pretty – I’m not ashamed to admit to using a clean square of TP on some desperate days. Pretty bookmarks don’t last long.

Take what you like from this discussion. Opinions will always vary. That’s how things are. I just hope you don’t let the book get in the way of your reading!


Poll Results – Disclaimers:

  • These were Facebook polls. This automatically limits the sample size.
  • I only polled one of each kind of group; this was by far not a comprehensive sample.
  • These were all people who participate in the circle of life of books; it does not include a large portion of the population who are not into books/reading which is really sad but to each their own escapism…
  • The librarian one didn’t have the same settings because FB is dumb about editing polls and you have to delete the whole post and retype everything in order to change the voting rules; so in that one they could vote more than once AND add options (thankfully no one did, because in the writing group I’d end up with forty options and one of them would have been GIVE ME BACON, courtesy of the group’s most vocal furry).

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