When I walked into class this morning I flipped out over one of my students reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, one of my favorite reads ever. Lost in my enthusiasm for the book, I grabbed the book from her desk, clutched it to my chest, and rocked back and forth, performing my twitterpation for the book in front of the class. Unknown to me, this student, Tiffany, had purchased the book for a friend and she sat silently in horror, terrified at my handling of the book. When I noticed the nervous juxtaposition of her broad smile and arched brow, she said to me, “Mr. Ziebarth, I’m a courtly lover.”
Talk about juxtapositions. I had no idea what she was talking about.
“You’re a what?”
“A courtly lover of books. Just like the essay we read over the summer,” Tiffany said.
Well shame on me for not recognizing what should be a common allusion. She was referring to the essay “Never Do That to a Book,” by Anne Fadiman. As she reminded me of the essay, another student, Tabatha, blurted out, “Me too!” as she quickly produced from her backpack a copy of the next novel we’re reading, The Catcher in the Rye, lovingly embraced by a padded manilla envelope. A small group of students burst into chatter about how hard it is to write in their books, while others proclaimed how much they enjoy putting pen and pencil to page, marking their books and making them their own.
Fadiman calls this drive to draw and annotate in books a “carnal love.” She explains, “to us, a book’s words [are] holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them [are] a mere vessel, and it [is] no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated.”
I don’t care how my students treat books, just that they love them.
Me? I’m a book lover of the latter sort, as you can tell by the photo of the Murakami novel above. See the little dog-eared corner of the first page? I did that. Much to Tiffany’s courtly-lover’s chagrin.
2 thoughts on “The Courtly Love of Books”
I love the way you describe how you clutched the book and rocked it back and forth. I have a hugged books but not sure if I have ever rocked one. I’ll have to try it. I find I have a difficult time reading without a pencil in hand. I have a hard time writing with pen in a book–but a pencil is always nearby when I read. Thanks for this post and sharing how the love of books can look different for everyone.
Your post shines on the fact that reader have relationships with books. Some are courtly some are physical. I was listening to my 16 year old talk about annotating. She says that’s the way she understands books. She also loves to read aloud. Right now she is lying on the kitchen floor reading To Kill a Mockingbird with her friend. They read, they talk, they annotate. Their invention. Love that.