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 page – although 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.