I came across this Anne Fadiman quote the other day on Beattie’s Book Blog and as soon as I saw it I thought “yes, that’s exactly right, especially the bit about the muffin crumbs!”
Although for a few of my favourite books I’ve purposefully accumulated multiple copies — a hardback to keep shelved and pristine, and a paperback to dog-ear, pencil-mark and generally wear to pieces — by and large, I don’t aim to keep my books in perfect condition. I find a broken spine mildly irritating but have no problem with marking up my books and, perhaps more surprisingly, no problem whatsoever with occasionally spilling food onto the pages.
I don’t think I’m an overly messy eater, in fact, I usually err toward the fastidious, but I’m definitely a read-eater — if I’m eating alone I almost always have a book open in front of me. This invariably means that, now and then, a bit of sauce or soup or beverage or crumbly carbohydrate ends up on whatever I’m reading. I’ve become fairly adept at easing crumbs out of spines (inverting the book while open usually works and bending out the end of a paper clip then running it down the join is another good trick) but during my readerly career I’ve had to just accept that my read-eating habits are going to result in the odd stained page. Case in point, the book from yesterday’s lunch, which fell victim to hot sauce as I tried to balance food and book on my lap while simultaneously enjoying sunshine on a park bench.
Unsightly? Yes, perhaps. Regrettable? Not really. In all likelihood, if I ever read this book a second time, I will laugh to myself when I reach these pages, knowing that on the day I first read them, I was too engrossed to realise that gravity was about to act on my meal. Likewise, while as a child I used to find food stains in other people’s books off-putting, these days I just grin to myself when I see them, especially when they turn up during particularly tense or enthralling scenes.
Being a read-eater means borrowing books from friends has an added degree of risk, part of the reason I do so infrequently. Yet, I doubt I’ll change my habits. In the busy world we live in, there’s no reason to deny oneself the opportunity to read over a meal — even if it means the meal ends up all over your read.