As an avid book collector and overall lover of the written word, my view points on personalizing books, to mean altering them, are quite complicated. Firstly, I must say that the view points I am about to express are entirely my own so please don’t get mad if you disagree with me.
So, what do I mean when I say personalizing? It can be anything from bending the pages, writing in the margins and underlining/highlighting to the more extravagant rebinding and custom covers.
I think that my feeling towards personalizing books depends on what kind of books they are. For example, I just recently came into a German book collection from a friend at work. These books are mostly pre-1970’s and were in a personal book collection where the owner wrote in each of the books. Some of these books are fiction while others are history books about Germany pre-WWII. Typically, with these kinds of older, some even leather bound, books I wouldn’t want them to have writing in them. But, I realized that he had numbered them in his collection as well as wrote who gave them to him if they were a gift and a brief description of who the person was in relations to them. I now know how much he loved his brother and his brother loved him. I got to see into his life in a unique way that in my eyes added to the collection. It makes it special.
I also have a collection of Bibles and educational books that have notes in them and I like that because I get to learn about the previous owners. Now with that said if a kid grabbed the book and went to town coloring it and made it impossible to read the book I would not be happy about that. I think of books as works of art, like paintings. I want them to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.
When it comes to covers I am a big fan of customizing the covers if it improves them. I am working on rebinding an older paperback copy of Eragon and I want to use leather for the new cover. The reason being it was my first copy of the book and it was me who destroyed it from reading it fifteen times, so I would like to rebind and make it my own. When people do that I think it is neat and makes them unique.
I really think we as stewards of the written word should make them our own but most importantly we must preserve the words contained within. A book is nothing if it can’t be read. The cover and gilding are used to look nice on the shelf and a few notes add character and personality, but the book must be readable.
When people use old books for art projects that’s ok to retire a book in that fashion. To me it’s better than throwing them away. I myself used a nearly destroyed copy of one of the Wheel of Time books to cover my bookshelves in pages. Half the book was missing as was the cover so instead of throwing it away I used it. I think that kind of stuff is, again, art.
But. When it comes to folding pages. Those people are animals. I can not think of any reason to bend and fold pages of a book. I see people doing that all the time and it takes a tremendous amount of self-control not to ask them to stop doing that. I don’t use book marks, I have gotten to where I just memorize the page I left off at in each book I am reading but I hate buying a book and finding out that there are twenty or so creases in the book where previous owners bent the pages and closed the book for long periods of time. It takes me a while to fix that and it’s just not right.
Personalize the books you own, show them the love you feel for them. Rebind them, write notes in them about parts you love. Just don’t bend the pages please. Please.