Books that come into my house take their fair share of abuse. Pages will be folded from both the top and bottom corner when necessary; pens will mark the pages with comments and symbols for reference; spines will flex and bow open; toast crumbs will furrow between pages; tea will be spilt. I would no more handle my books as delicate crystal than I would cover my furniture in plastic. Objects have no value outside the pleasure I can glean from living with them. When I bring a book home, it’s not a first date where I’m on my best behaviour. Nope, we are wed as it were, so there’s no pretence around the messy details of everyday life. My books don’t get to enjoy protection from me.
However, I find myself in full aesthetic and ethical recoil from the trend of turning books into novelty purses. Ms. Portman carries the husked spine of Lolita in the snapshot above to the Black Swan premiere. Live with your books, absolutely. But the way some folks turn squeamish when they see a celebrity wearing fur, I also turn the same queasy regard at seeing volumes skinned alive, even if it is that paean to a man’s right to perv on little girls. Far be it for me to side with the snobs on any matter, except for the voice that screams books are not decoration or agents to be used in our primping. I know Portman’s a Harvard grad, which makes her choice all the more puzzling, because someone carrying a hollowed-out text suggests as much love for books as a guy I knew who boasted of having never read one, a man who claimed their only value was to look good on a shelf to impress the ladies. Dead book accessories connote style over substance in a most arresting manner.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Books.