Dirty books annoy me. Not that kind of dirty book, but books that arrive dirty. If a book is expensive, particularly an academic book, I look for a used copy. Since we’re in a pandemic, and also since the books I read tend to be outré, shall we say, getting them in the local second-hand place generally doesn’t work. Sellers of used books online have to rate them. Acceptable, poor, fair, good, very good—the scale is somewhat arbitrary. I don’t like books with writing in them; I don’t want somebody else telling me what’s important. I think I can find a topic sentence, thank you very much. Lately I’ve gone down to the level of good with my online buying. (Have you looked at the prices?!) When you add that “very” to “good” sticker shock sets in. Okay, so the books arrive well loved, I expect that. But dirty?
I used to sell used books on Amazon. I never sold many, but I always tried to be sure they were dusted off before putting them in the envelope. I never put a cup of coffee on them. Nor used them as a plate. Some people apparently do, though. I had one book arrive so filthy that I took the 409 to it. Thing is, it cleaned up nicely. Is it too much to expect that someone selling used books might go ahead and get some of the gunk off before sending it? It’s not exactly Antiques Roadshow patina, after all. It’s someone else’s slovenliness. Who knows—might not a quick wipe-down improve the profitability by enhancing the condition of the book?
Library builders like yours truly want to afford the best editions that we can. Books are more than mere objects gathering dust on the shelves—they’re individuals that we get to know. Those that we meet but don’t really care for we pass along, hopefully to loving homes. The way someone treats books reveals quite a bit about a person. Accidents happen, of course. A hazard of reading a lot may lead to the occasional spilled coffee or dropped bit of food, but treating books with respect not only increases their resale potential, it’s also an acknowledgement of the accomplishment. Writing a book involves a considerable amount of work. And although your property is yours to treat as you please, books are particularly vulnerable to damage by water, mice, or neglect. Add fire, food, or extended exposure to sunlight and you get a sense of their fragility. Acknowledging the effort a book takes to produce can go a long way towards making sure no book is dirty. That, and a quick wipe-off before shoving it in the envelope.