G asks: What are the books in your house that have been handled to crumbling point? He suggests a list of the top five. Here are mine. Brace yourselves, some of them are a bit on the girlish side:
Little Women: Every once in a while I pull this out and read it again. I weep every time I get to Beth dying, just as much as I did when I didn't know it was coming. Once my Mom called me right at that point, and like an idiot I answered the phone instead of letting the machine get it.
"Hello?" I asked, voice all ragged.
"Honey, whatsa matter?"
"Beth just died." Sob, sniffle.
"Beth March." A slight pause while she processed this.
"Are you reading that book again? All right, go finish. Call me later. Goofy."
The Riverside Shakespeare: It's a huge book. A compilation of everything the Bard ever wrote, including his will. It's printed on sheets and sheets of very thin paper, and it's one of the largest, heaviest books I've ever owned. I used to have to schlepp this thing to and from my Shakespeare class, and it felt more like I was carting around his actual body than his body of work. I drag it out periodically to read a play or two, usually before I head off to the Stratford festival for the summer (that's Stratford, Ontario, not Stratford, England. Oh, how I wish!) or to reacquaint myself with the sonnets.
Knitting for Dummies: A while back, I bought a leaflet called "Learn to Knit in Just One Day." Four years later, I still hadn't figured it out. I saw this book in a Barnes & Noble bookstore the February before last, and decided perhaps it wasn't user error after all, but simply bad instructions. I've only had the book two years, and it's already rather battered. I use it quite a lot. Very well-written, and full of pictures. My only quibble: they should have made it spiral-bound. It isn't so much well-thumbed as well-kneed. I've lost track of how many times I've found myself putting the book in a chair and holding it open with one knee, while I stand on the other foot and try to knit and read instructions at the same time.
Jane Eyre: I have in fact read two copies of this book to the crumbly stage, and am currently working on destroying the second replacement copy. I like that Jane is not pretty, that she's not winsome, that she's sharp-tongued, and that Mr. Rochester is not a sweet-natured handsome gentleman. When I first read it, I didn't realize Bronte was rebelling against the stereotypical romance of the period. All I knew is that these were people I could understand, and their imperfections made me love them.
Persuasion: On my first replacement of this one. Not that I read it less, it's just that the first copy was in better shape to start with than my Jane Eyre. I love Anne Elliot, I love the way Captain Wentworth falls in love with her all over again. I love her silly, superficial, oblivious Daddy and older sister, and her rank-obsessed sister Mary. The Musgroves are wonderful. I just love this book. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to go dig it out and read it again.
I told you it would be a bit girlish.
Oh! Here's an extra one, from childhood. I don't have this book any more, it's been passed around from child to child in our family, and I have no idea who has it. It's a Sesame Street book, featuring Grover, and it's called There's a Monster at the End of This Book. What I like best has nothing to do with the story, but with the memory Mom reading it to me (and 6 years later, to my baby sister) in the best Grover voice this side of Frank Oz. Really. If he gets laryngitis, he should call my Mom. No one would be able to tell the difference.