Tears and Tears

In my recent discussion of the common smears and stains that readers might expect to find on second-hand texts, I forgot to mentions tears. That’s ‘tears’,the salty liquid that emanates from your eyes, as opposed to ‘tears’ in the pagealthough this is, you might say, an equally important way of marking one’s territory as a reader.

Let’s deal with the first ‘tears’ to begin with. How often do you find yourself crying into, or upon, a book? In the case of some poor readers, this is a frequent occurence. Yet I pity them not, What a way to respond to words! Any book that has been baptised in tears is a worthy book indeed. Of course, recognising a tear stain is no mean feat. Tears lack the punch of blood or coffee. They can easily be mistaken for water. And yet I like to think that I know when a book has felt a tear or two. There is something in the crumple of the paper. There is a certain quality to the faintly ruffled pages. And what’s that I hear? The echo of distant weeping, reverberating in the margins?

The other ‘tears’ are easier to spot. A torn page is a torn page is a torn page. It does not espect detection. And yet it shares something in common with a page which has been touched with tears. Which is to say that it has also invoked in the reader a strong physical reaction. It has driven the reader to do something dramatic. It has driven the reader to inforce themselves upon the text; to leave their mark right there on the page.

The best page, of course (and a holy grail for second-hand book lovers) is the one that has been marked by both kinds of tear. The page that makes you laugh, cry, and start ripping.


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