As a child I was extremely fortunate in having parents who loved to read. They acquired a rather large home library of the great classics along with the latest Book of the Month Club selections. Thus I came to adore Les Miserables equally with the biting satire of Betty MacDonald and a rather obscure tale of Indian poverty and despair, Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. I read every book without prejudice and some with deep delight - The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam was a childhood favorite as much as the Alice stories and Winnie the Pooh. When my father died, his wife, whom I always thought of as "the wicked stepmother," kept the books and later sold them in an auction lot with many other significant and dear-bought memorabilia of my youth. Can you see why I thought her wicked? She had no sense of the true intrinsic value of books.
Not so with Margot Rosenberg and Bern Marcowitz. They know what a book's for.
This small, charming book about books is both practical and whimsical, as the title suggests. Written by a pair of booksellers, it examines everything from the right sort of tape - "no repair is so urgent that it cannot wait until you have a tape more appropriate for use on books" - or glue - "homemade paste also makes an unusual gift" - to the treatment of books that have been housed in stinky boxes -."we judge a book's readiness to return to society by our noses." Occasionally it offers gentle quasi-medical advice such as "Let the book rest overnight."
The authors also love dogs and are not ashamed to sprinkle their bibliophilic wisdom with the more-than-occasional shaggy dog story. "Dogs, God bless them, have all sorts of ears...books have dog-ears of one regrettable type." There's a section about "children and old books" which begins, "children and dogs are perfect together" and graduates to: "even better, children and dogs, curled up with books." A shameless excuse for the intrusion of yet another canine reference! And what are we to make of this thinly veiled connector: "We don't recommend that dogs moonlight as book weights, but when they do, check that the dog's weight is evenly distributed over the book." Honestly!
As you will see as you thumb through this exercise in book-o-mania, the authors think of books as friends and believe they should be treated as such -- something my wicked stepmother never grasped. Books need to be dealt with respectfully, lovingly, handled with care, sympathetically forgiven for their flaws and the inevitable crumbling edges that afflict us all in old age. And, sadly, "a book lover knows when a book has, in effect, died." The authors lament setting deceased books out in the trash - "an ignominious end" - and hopefully suggest saving a favorite frontispiece, or donating books to charity.
Do Rosenberg and Marcowitz go a little too far when they suggest we clean our library books and gather volunteers to do the same? Perhaps, but it's all in a good cause. As W. Somerset Maugham observed, "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life." I agree, and surely you do too, or you wouldn't be reading this.