OK, It's Time To Give Up On These Book "Rules" For Good

by Charlotte Ahlin
Kelly Knox/Stocksy

Somewhere around kindergarten, most kids were given a lecture on treating books with respect. I don't remember the specifics (I was probably too busy drawing Aristocats fanart), but I do remember growing up with a set of (mostly) unspoken rules around books. Readers were not to leave books open, or dog-ear the pages. Readers were not to flip ahead or waste too much time reading "trash." I was scandalized when I reached 12th grade, and one of my teachers required everyone to take notes in the margins of the physical book itself (heresy!). But the older I've gotten, the more relaxed I've become about book rules. Yes, it is generally best to treat one's own personal possessions with respect. And yes, it is a capital crime to borrow a book without returning it, or to in any way besmirch the pages of a library book. Beyond that, though... look, it's time to come clean. There are a lot of book "rules" that readers should just break, once and for all.

Look, I think most readers already break these rules.... all the time. The vast majority of us are secret book gremlins. Because at the end of the day, what matters are the words on the inside, not the pristine condition of the dust jacket (big shoutout to anyone who can go more than a week without ripping a dust jacket).


"Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover"

You judge books by their cover. Don't lie. Yeah, of course all readers *know* that it's what's on the *inside* that counts. But you also know that the movie tie-in cover isn't going to make you look well-read and mysterious when you read it on the subway. We're all more likely to go for a book with a beautiful outside, even if its inside is derivative and bland (to be fair, this is true of human being as well).


"Don't Judge A Book By It's Genre"

Sure, you think of yourself as an open-minded person. You love all your books equally. But I'm willing to bet that there is at least one genre out there, be it space pirates or YA beach romance, that makes you roll your eyes just a little. You try not to judge your friends for reading a book that you think is trashy/pretentious/sappy/adapted from a Twitter feed, but some secret part of you is a tiny, quiet book snob about it all the same.


"Don't Dog-Ear Pages"

This is a contentious issue in the book loving community. On the one hand, people who use bookmarks don't want to harm the pages of their precious books. On the other hand, people who dog-ear pages think that the bookmark people need to chill because life is fleeting and permanence is an illusion. We've all dog-earred the occasional book in our time, and I'm here to say that it's OK. It just makes your books look more "well loved."


"Read A Book All The Way Through"

Yes, I know that your cousin's boyfriend swears up and down that this book will change your life. I know that you want to be the person who sticks with a book to the very end. But forcing yourself to read a book that you're not interested in is a fairly pointless exercise, especially if you're not being graded on it. So you put the book "on hold" for a few weeks, which soon become months, which soon become years, and by then the book has become such an integral feature of your nightstand that it has melded with the wood and cannot be physically removed.


"You Should Never Write In The Margins"

It was drilled into children that writing in a book is a monstrous thing to do. And while writing in library books is, in fact, deeply evil, doodling in the margins of your own books is perfectly legal. It's even fun to find a secondhand book that's already been scribbled on.


"You Should Never Read Ahead"

Very few book lovers set out to read ahead (unless you're one of those people who reads the last page first, then you are beyond my help). But too often, a word jumps out at you from the opposite page, and suddenly you're reading three whole paragraphs ahead and then you have to back up and read the paragraphs you've skipped while internally screaming because you know what's JUST about to happen and yet you are powerless to warn the characters.


"You Should Never Read More Than One Book At A Time"

You haven't abandoned them. You're just reading them all. At once. Look, you need to read that brand new hardcover right away, but it's too big to fit in your purse. So then you need a smaller paperback for daily travel. Plus you need to reread The Golden Compass again, because you really want to.


"You Should Keep The Pages Of Your Book Pristine"

Very few readers set out to stain every book they touch with a variety of hot liquids and various crumbs. But when you're too invested to put your book down, and yet you also have a human body in need of sustenance, it's bound to happen. I say that coffee stains are a form of art (unless it's a library book you've stained, then you must take to the sea and never return).


"You Should Never Watch The Movie First"

You were going to read the book first. You really were. You didn't even mean to watch the movie/TV show/prestige HBO drama. You were tricked into it. But somehow, you found yourself watching a book-based movie with no knowledge of the book it was based on. And you maybe even liked it. Just a little bit. But you're definitely going to read the book now. Probably. As soon as you read all the other books on your TBR list...


"You Shouldn't Re-Read Books When You Have New Stuff To Read"

You have unread books on your bookshelves. You have twenty books on your TBR list. You just got back from the bookstore with three shiny new novels, plus that biography your friend lent to you six months ago. Your new years resolution was to get out of your reading rut and expand your horizons. So... guess it's time to re-read Pride and Prejudice again? (It's not your fault that you've fallen madly in love with your imagined version of Mr. Darcy.)


"You Shouldn't Spoil The End For Yourself"

I'll be real: I actually think readers get too bent out of shape about spoilers. A good story relies on more than just shock value, and a good plot twist is still interesting even if you see it coming. But plenty of people feel very differently about spoilers. And sometimes, you're just so excited to tell everyone you know about this great new book you just read, that you kinda maybe tell them absolutely everything including the very end and how they are going to feel about it (whoops).