A few days ago, I was organising my book shelf, and I came across my husband’s old, battered copy of Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.
The cover was gone and the back cover held on by the barest thread. The spine was broken in countless places. The pages were yellowed and well-thumbed. And on the page that was now the cover, he has signed his name proudly and written a brief commentary about how much he enjoyed the book.
I held this fragile book in my hands and a smile spread over my face. Right next to it was a newer copy of Assassin’s Apprentice that still had its cover, but we will never get rid of this battered volume. It has so much history. It’s a snapshot from the past, to a teenage boy that loved a book so much he had to scrawl a commentary on it in black ink. And when I was a teenage bookworm, I was the same. Inside the front covers, I used to proudly write “If found, please return to Laura Richardson” and included my phone number or email address. If it was a favourite book, I underlined “please” several times. I’d give it a swirly, John Hancock-like signature to drive home that this was my book.
I think a lot of young kids who liked to read did and continue to do this. Books are prized possessions but not especially well-treated unless they’re library books (and sometimes not even then). They enjoy reading them in public so people could see what they are reading, and if others ask them about it, they are delighted. With the carelessness of teens, they’ll read and dog-dear pages, break spines, crush them in their backpacks as they navigate school hallways. They are constant companions.
And if teens get that love of books, if they love a book so much they’ll mark them as theirs, then that’s something that will follow them into adulthood. That’s a love that I don’t think can die. And that’s why YA is so exciting, and so important. I loved reading when I was younger than 13, but 13-15 was when I really latched onto the fact that books and reading were a part of my identity and I developed a sense of what I liked to read. A lot of my beliefs and philosophies came from the fiction and non-fiction I read during those years and shaped who I am now, as an adult. Who would we all be, if we hadn’t read these books as teens? Would we be different adults?
I put the battered book back on the shelf, gently, and continued organising all of our other books that we proudly mark as ours.