For it behoves us to guard a book much more carefully than a boot.
March 4, 2016 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Cristian Ispir explores 14th-century bibliophile Richard de Bury's advice on how to take care of books — or rather, how not to.
posted by metaquarry (9 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Snot, cookie crumbs and marginalia adequately covered; dog ears mysteriously absent.
posted by oheso at 4:44 AM on March 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like this one: But the handling of books is specially to be forbidden to those shameless youths, who as soon as they have learned to form the shapes of letters, straightway, if they have the opportunity, become unhappy commentators, and wherever they find an extra margin about the text, furnish it with monstrous alphabets, or if any other frivolity strikes their fancy, at once their pen begins to write it.

Because the pile of falling apart literature books in the corner of my classroom are furnished with the sort of monstrous alphabets you might see in a gas station bathroom.
posted by kozad at 4:45 AM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Alas, Richard de Bury wasn't able to convince anyone not to press flowers or leaves in books--I occasionally find examples in nineteenth-century novels.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:53 AM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let the clerk take care also that the smutty scullion reeking from his stewpots does not touch the lily leaves of books, all unwashed, but he who walketh without blemish shall minister to the precious volumes.

I love this.

dog ears mysteriously absent

I caught my wife dog-earing a library book a few weeks ago and briefly considered a trial separation.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:32 AM on March 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ok, so the medieval cat paw prints are really pretty awesome.
posted by klausman at 6:11 AM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I loved this!

It reminds me of something that happened last summer at a Sacred Harp Singing. We were singing from the most common songbook, the 1991 edition. Nearly all singers own their own copies, and in general we can be hard on them. Because you can be in a room of 100 people with identical books, it's common to write your name on the edges of the pages, like you did with textbooks in sixth grade. People often mark favorite songs either by writing on the page or with tape flags or ribbons or some other method, and it's common to keep lists or notes by writing them on the end-papers. Still, these are much-beloved books and people want them to last a long time, so in other ways we're pretty careful with them.

During a break, a couple of other altos were chatting with each other, complaining about the poor quality of their books: the bindings had broken, the signatures had started to come loose, and in general they were in poor repair. They were disdainful of the publishing company that produced them. I expressed surprise, because except for my notations and a bit of wear on the corners of the covers, my songbook is in excellent shape. "And I've been singing from it for 15 years!" I said.

One of the women said disdainfully, "Well, with respect, not that girl, I sing a lot more than you do."

Fair enough.

And then a couple of songs later she got up to lead a song, and instead of holding it open flat, she bent her book at the page she needed, doubling it up until the front cover touched the back cover, and holding the whole thing clamped that way in one hand.

"I sing more than you do." Hmph. "Disappointed in the quality of the books." Hmph again. Richard de Bury would have had some words for her, if he'd even let her have a book in the first place.
posted by not that girl at 8:04 AM on March 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

You may happen to see some headstrong youth lazily lounging over his studies, and when the winter’s frost is sharp, his nose running from the nipping cold drips down, nor does he think of wiping it with his pocket-handkerchief until he has bedewed the book before him with the ugly moisture. Would that he had before him no book, but a cobbler’s apron!
Shameful confession: I have had that happen to me. I'll have to get a cobbler’s apron for such occasions.

Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 8:44 AM on March 4, 2016

Medieval readers also had a bad habit of using their spectacles as bookmarks.
posted by verstegan at 10:02 AM on March 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm firmly with Richard de Bury on the care of books: even the ones that aren't anything special, just common cheap paperbacks, deserve proper care and consideration.

I live with about 3-4 thousand books; I am constitutionally unable to just --- gasp! --- throw out a book: the mere idea of doing so gives me the willies. The only ones that are dog-eared came to me that way from second-hand bookshops; ditto any with writing or glued-in bookplates or or or.... I don't lend out books, because it's way too common for them to either come back damaged or not come back at all, and I'm not sure which is worse.
posted by easily confused at 5:01 AM on March 5, 2016

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