The Beauty of 'Ugly' Books


Ok, so you see this falling apart, disgusting, might be moulding or maybe that's just a stain, not sure where page 118-19's actually gotten to, scuffed and creased to shit book? This is one of my most prized possessions. Like most kids my age I went through the Harry Potters and loved them, I had other series I became heavily invested in and wolfed Jacqueline Wilson books one after the other. I read plenty as a child and have plenty of books saved from my younger years. 

The thing about this book though, is that nobody else has read it. It's a translation from a little known German author and was bought for me by my mother in a Borders about 5 months before the company closed it's stores. Whereas most of my childhood reading experiences are shared and loved by many, Mimus is all my own. I've never known anyone else who's even heard of it before I've told them, and yet it's one of my favourite books. Mimus was my first experience as an individual reader, to read and experience a book all by myself, not just another Jacqueline Wilson read at the same time as all my friends. I also read this book to my younger brother when I was a teenager, doing all the silly voices. For years I read this book over and over again, sometimes cover to cover but often just picking out my favourite passages and plot points and revisiting them. My point being that this book is well loved, and in becoming well loved, it has also gotten battered to within an inch of it's life. 

It's easy, when you keep up with book-tube and book blogging to fall into the trap of seeing books as aesthetic objects. The 'dream' is usually peddled as rows and rows of white shelves lined with pristine books, clothbound editions and series with matching covers, and for a few years I bought into that. I was obsessed with keeping my books like new, I didn't want to bend the spines or write in the pages, I only wanted to buy books in the prettiest editions available, or, if the only covers I could find were ugly, I was sometimes completely put off buying the book! I barely even read the books I bought. I realise that for a little while I stopped actually being a reader and just became a collector.

It was Mimus that got me to come to my senses. I found it in an old schoolbag tucked away in a drawer as I was moving out of my parents house, and when I first saw how creased and stained it was, how the pages were coming loose and the spine was cracked to shit, my first thought was "Oh God I used to love this book, but this is ugly, I'm going to need a new copy." But then I remembered sitting on the floor of my messy bedroom with my brother doing the stupid voices while he laughed. And of sitting in bed on cold evenings flicking through to find my favourite bits and reading them again and again, getting food on the pages and bending the cover as I rolled over in the blankets. I sat down and started reading Mimus and suddenly books were books again. The rows of beautiful, pristine, unread books on my shelves seemed soulless and stupid. 

In the last three years I have grown up, stopped being a tool, and am now financially responsible for myself. Second hand bookshops are my best friends, I love highlighting and scribbling in all my books and I enjoy a certain satisfaction looking at the creased spines on my bookshelf. I recently discovered The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in a charity shop for £1.20, with two different sets of scrawls and underlining already in the pages. I love the idea that two people have already owned my book and I get to see how they felt about the same story as I was reading through. I'll probably donate it again at some point, to pass it on to someone else, so they can have the same experience I did. 

Let me know how you feel about this? Are you happy to let your books get ugly? Or do you prefer to keep them in good condition?

Thank you for reading!


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