Life’s too short to hate (or is it?)

One of the joys of fatherhood – whether as a stepfather or as a natural parent – is the opportunity to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. I may well be world-weary even at my age, but even something that has become the norm for you can become truly exciting again when you’re introducing a child to a whole new experience.

As a result, my elder daughter – The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest – and I found ourselves in a Thai restaurant yesterday evening, getting some much needed food ahead of a trip to Madison Square Gardens to see Alicia Keys perform live in concert.

The interesting thing about spending any amount of time alone with a 12 year old is that the conversation has a weird ebb and flow to it. For a few minutes you might sit in absolute silence as you desperately cast around for topics that might be of interest to you both. Then once you hit paydirt, you suddenly find that you can’t get a word in edgeways for half an hour, as a stream of consciousness is unleashed upon you and anyone within a 60 yard radius. And then silence again.

During one of these conversational ‘tirades’ last night, my daughter brought up the topic of hate, saying that she doesn’t understand why some people say that hate is too strong an emotion. She then proceeded to string together a list that may have included everything from her third grade teacher through to the socio-economic policies of the autocratic regimes of Central Africa. I wasn’t on the hate list, I’m happy to say, although that may simply have been a pragmatic approach on her part, prompted by my decision not to give her the concert ticket ahead of time.

Anyway, if I’d have managed to jam a metaphorical foot into her conversational door in order to squeeze a sentence in, I’d have said that I agree with those people who don’t have any time for hate. But then I realized that there is just one thing that drives me mad to the point of loathing – something that makes me angry whenever I see it, almost to the point where I feel like taking decisive physical action to remedy the situation.

Because, dear reader, violence against books just isn’t acceptable.

I grew up worshipping books – eagerly devouring every last page and twist of everything from the Secret Seven and the Roald Dahl books, to Agatha Christie and even Jeffrey Archer. And so sacred did all books become to me that I couldn’t even bear to break the spine, let alone deface them in any other way. I used to read books with the pages only as far apart as would be allowed by my thumb being wedged in at the bottom. Oh hell, what am I talking about – I still read books that way. No folded corners, no creases in the cover, and I always make sure to pick up the book that’s about six from the front in the bookshop, just so that it’s as flat as possible.

Obsessive-compulsive? Moi?

The Special One, incidentally, has a completely different view. She naively believes that books are there to be enjoyed. If she’s even in the same room as a book, its spine will crack spontaneously, in fear of the numerous pains that she is about to inflict on its pages. I wince in agony as she flattens the book completely with the palm of her hand, or leaves it splayed open while she goes off in search of a late-night snack. Hurt a book, and you are hurting me.

Recently though, I’ve noticed that more and more New Yorkers seem to be writing in their books. Maybe I’m just coming across more students, but it seems that the primary use for a biroballpoint pen these days is to scrawl copious notes (generally in green, I like to think) in otherwise beautiful and pristine books. Underlinings, rambling notes, and even doodles I’ve seen recently – is nothing truly sacrosanct these days? I’m thinking of starting a campaign for a legislative change which would allow any book being used in such a way to be snatched from the holder’s hand by any passing stranger. Watch out New York, the Book Police are in town.

Suffice to say that I managed to put aside my hatred for the course of last night’s concert, and a good time was had by all. The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest burst into tears when Alicia Keys introduced Beyonce, and shrieked at the top of her voice when Jay-Z came on stage at the end.

She must have learned how to scream from seeing me shortly after her mother has picked up a book, that’s for sure.

9 thoughts on “Life’s too short to hate (or is it?)

  1. geekymummy

    Ah, I am like your wife I fear. Though a great book lover, my most beloved and reread books have chocolate between the pages and soggy wrinkled edges. I could never have a Kindle, because I would drop it in the bath.

  2. Silverback

    Seeing as geekymummy brought it up, what do you think of e-books, Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony Reader and so on ?

    No chance for scribblers to deface them but of course nowhere for your thumb to go either !

  3. Timinator

    I have a friend who worships books. He quit a job once because his boss was a jerk. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was when that ex-boss came into my friend’s office, took a seat, and then put his feet up on a stack of research books like they were a footstool. Sacrilege!

  4. Mat M

    I think your wife has it right, I’m afraid. Evidence to support this:

    – libraries of old bound books with uncut pages
    – cheaper binding methods and poor-quality paper
    – paperbacks in general
    – the falling cost of buying a book
    – e-readers

    What matters isn’t the medium, but the message. It’s like the Vinyl-cassette tape-digital format progression. You’re stuck in some C13 weltanschauung where books are manuscripts painstakingly created over dozens of years by ink-stained monks who sacrificed their eyesight so a literate aristocracy could enjoy the latest installment of the Twilight saga.

    Move on.

  5. The Curiour Baker

    I thought I was the only one that used to read a book without cracking the spine, phew so I AM normal! I don’t anymore though, I’ve been cured, crack away I say, the spine’ll forgive you later!

  6. Anonymously

    Phew, I knew there were a few more of us. I worship books, reading them or otherwise. I cringe when I see people write or underline inside text books, sit/stand/spill/flatten etc, I feel the pain. I always ask people to respect books and they look at me like I am wrong somehow. So thanks for pointing out that I am not exactly ‘wrong’. Speaking of which – there really ought to be something wrong with a person (pointing at self) who has to be physically removed from a bookshop/library otherwise they would bunk there for life. No?

  7. Tanya (Bump2Basics)

    I’m also more like your wife….my favorite books are also my most lived in – I’ve toted them around, re-read them and enjoyed them alongside a glass of wine and a snack which inevitably end up on the pages. I always viewed these blemishes as testaments of my love!

  8. Iota

    Oh gosh, I used to be like you, but now I’m like your wife. Does that mean I’ve seen the light, or does it mean I’ve degenerated?

    And yes, what do you feel about Kindles?

  9. Alasdair

    Dylan – my vote goes on the “Respect books !” side, with yours …

    I use almost anything flat as a bookmark, to save my place, so that I don’t need to crack the spine of a book …

    If I need to mark a passage, I use little yelloow stickies which leave no marks …

    Of course, this meant that, when daughters #1-#4 went to US Schools, as they all did (one currently still does, in 12th grade), they not only wrote notes in pen on the pages, they {dramatic shudder} used HighLiters on the pages to mark words and phrases and paragraphs …

    Fortunately, I already knew of the duality of kids, so that, when the ‘evil twin/teenager’ facet emerges, I can also realise that the angelic remains within, able to emerge at some future time …

    When it starts to get to me, I just send the offender back down into the basement, to her pod, while I await the return of my little angel …

    I suspec t that part of it is cultural – UK/classical education vs US/ex-colony education …

    I do have to admit to some sympathy with Tanya and geekymummy, in that there are certain series which I have read and re-read several times – and my copies of those volumes are no longer pristine – they are obviously well-enjoyed … no writing, just the occasional now-anonymous comestible or two decorating the occasional page …

    A couple of my Terry Pratchett books, for example, got so decorated when a particular passage had me suddenly and forcefully laughing out loud … (better a book than a keyboard or monitor – Mountain Dew is *not* good for electronics) …

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