Who says curling up with a good book is a placid pastime, free from the controversy that dogs so much of modern life?
Well, me. But not anymore. I recently wrote about the bittersweet joy I experience whenever I transition from using the front flap of a hardcover dust jacket as a bookmark to using the back flap. Surely this is a universal feeling, I mused.
Apparently not. You’d think I’d confessed to cleaning the grout in my shower with the Bayeaux Tapestry. A dust jacket, wrote Patrick Halperin of Alexandria, Va., is often a hardback’s most valuable part for resale purposes. “I normally remove the dust cover before doing anything like read the book,” he wrote.
Others objected for practical reasons. “I hate reading books with the dust jacket on,” Barbara Elwell of Herndon, Va., wrote. “The book slips up/down and the edges don’t stay aligned. You have to grip hard to keep everything even. I use a bookmark — no turning down the corners.”
Hilary Donovan of Arlington, Va., also has an aversion to dust jackets. “My fingers hate them. I need the solid feel of a hardcover book,” she wrote. She removes the covers and stacks them on her bottom bookshelf — “and then hope that I can find the appropriate ones when it’s time to donate the books.”
Steve Hoffman of Takoma Park, Md., finds dust jackets “undependable.” He writes, “The flap has a way of not staying in place.”
Steve favors bookmarks. And like many people I heard from, he has his own rituals when it comes to them. “One little superstition I have is, whatever bookmark I start using with a book, I try to use that same bookmark all the way through,” he wrote. “So, for example, if I didn’t have an actual bookmark handy and just grabbed one of those subscription cards that fell out of a magazine, I’ll use that as the bookmark all the way through.”
Cecily Nabors of Silver Spring, Md., chooses each bookmark with care, wanting its design to relate to the content of the book it nestles in.
“For example, I’m currently reading ‘All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West’ by David Gessner,” she wrote. “The cover has photos of each author, plus a lovely one of mesas at sunset.”
Cecily selected a bookmark from Zion National Park in Utah. “The desert colors in the bookmark blend harmoniously with those in the book cover, and the bookmark makes me happy every time I open the book,” she wrote.
When Dan O’Day of Alexandria, Va., buys books at thrift stores and estate sales, he always thumbs through them to collect the ephemera previous readers have used to mark their places. Dan wrote: “In addition to assorted business cards, shopping lists and newspaper clippings, I’ve found an invitation to a librarians’ convention in Philadelphia from 1896, an early 1920s photo of a young girl holding a candle for some ritual, and a Christmas card to Mrs. Jessie Clark in Maryland mailed in 1913.”
Of course, before marking your place in a book, you have to decide whether the book is worth reading. Readers have their own rituals for this, too.
Michele Keefe of Fairfax Station Va., says she follows the Nancy Pearl rule for readers 51 or older, whose creator is an American librarian, author and literary critic. Michele wrote: “Her rule is this: Subtract your age from the number 100. If you are not engaged in a book after reading that number of pages, toss it aside and start anew. Never feel obligated to finish any book that you have started.”
Jim Whalen from Rockville, Md., follows the rule too, and noted, “At this rate when I’m 100 years old, I’ll be able to tell a book by its cover.”
As for reading habits, Marcy Troy is always looking for books with a character who shares her last name. So far she’s at five: Sgt. Frank Troy (“Far From the Madding Crowd”), Gavin Troy (the “Midsomer Murder” books), Dr. Troy (family doctor in “Angela’s Ashes”), Agatha Troy (“Inspector Alleyn” mysteries) and Inspector Frederick Troy (John Lawton’s WWII spy series).
Marcy, of Oakton, Va., wrote: “If you know of any more, let me know!”
Lynn Peterson Mobley of Great Falls, Va., said her guilty pleasure is a mystery series by the likes of Susan Hill, Elly Griffiths and Jim Kelly.
“But I never begin in the middle or end of a series,” she wrote. She starts at the first book, continuing on if it meets her fancy.
“Authors flesh out their characters as they develop them, and their histories grow with each book,” Lynn wrote. “We get to know them as the writer does; turning to the newest book then becomes a return to a familiar world and old friends.
“Life is infinite change, but a novel is a world under control. The author has done the work of focusing upon a small time and place to make it comfortingly understandable. Perhaps as a result, I tend to see life around me as a series of stories instead of random chaos, and am more tempted to stick around to read the last chapter.”
Tomorrow: Another chapter on reading idiosyncrasies.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.