A few days ago I was thinking of what my favorite books from childhood were, thinking about how some books hold up when you’re an adult and some don’t. After remembering how utterly fantastic Dealing with Dragons is and re-reading it in a blitz of about two hours, I asked my friends about their childhood favorites. These are the responses I got:
“I read Black Beauty so many times that I went through three copies of the book just through wear.”
“I read I, Robot so much that the back cover fell off.”
“There’s a Helen Keller book that I read a lot and half of its pages are held in by tape…”
I replied, “My copy of The Blue Sword is basically broken in half. I refuse to get a new one.”
My mother has a storybook from when she was a child called Once Long Ago. At least, she claims it’s called that; it’s impossible to tell, since at this point the cover is basically two battered pieces of board (the one on the front has a vaguely discernible crest-type image on it) held together by the strip of burlap that’s all that’s left of the spine. Needless to say, all the pages have fallen out. They’ve mostly separated from each other, though clumps of two or three are still hanging on. I’ve occasionally thought about having it re-bound for her as a gift, but I never have, probably for the same reason I don’t want a new copy of The Blue Sword: I feel as if it wouldn’t be the same, somehow.
I’m sure other people have other ways of defining just how much they love something than by clinging to timeworn objects. I know my sister, who loved the book too, bought herself a shiny new copy of The Blue Sword when she moved away from home, saying it would be nice to have a fresh copy. Still, there’s something about the book with the pages falling out, with the cover held together by tape, when it’s your book. There’s a reason why we have words like well-worn and well-loved – and why they mean substantially similar things. Worn books remind us of all the innumerable times the stories in their pages have brought us joy.