“. . .a species of covetousness unlike any other”

. . . no curses seem to deter those readers who, like crazed lovers, are determined to make a certain book theirs. The urge to possess a book, to be its sole owner, is a species of covetousness unlike any other. “A book reads the better,” confessed Charles Lamb . . . “which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins.

The act of reading establishes an intimate, physical relationship in which all the senses have a part: the eyes drawing words from the page, the ears echoing the sounds being read, the nose inhaling the familiar scent of paper, glue, ink, cardboard or leather, the touch caressing the rough or soft page, the smooth or hard binding, even the taste, at times, when the reader’s fingers are lifted to the tongue . . . All this, many readers are unwilling to share — and if the book they wish to read is in someone else’s possession, the laws of property are as hard to uphold as those of faithfulness in love. Also, physical ownership becomes at times synonymous with a sense of intellectual apprehension. We come to feel that the books we own are the books we know, as if possession were, in libraries as in courts, nine-tenths of the law; that to glance at the spines of the books we call ours, obediently standing guard along the walls of our room, willing to speak to us and us alone at the mere flick of a page, allows us to say, “All this is mine,” as if their presence alone fills us with their wisdom, without our actually having to labour through their contents.

From the chapter “Stealing Books,” in A History of Reading by Albert Manguel. Which is all sorts of dorkalicious and yummy. I have not read this to the end — I mean, I am trying not to hurtle through it. And I keep drawing little hearts and exclamation points in the margins, hee.

[Photo credit: Legs by Henri Cartier-Bresson.]

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