The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes is my favorite book. Not my favorite novel, not my favorite story, not my favorite collection of words bound together. I mean to say that a specific copy of The Witch Family is my favorite book-as-physical-object.
I think, but don’t know for certain, that my copy of this book was a library edition. I’m pretty sure my mother picked it up at a yard sale or a thrift store and gave it to me. The first time I read it I was in elementary school, probably in the first or second grade. It was D.E.A.R. day–Drop Everything And Read–which was the most magical day of the school year. Periodically throughout the day an announcement would come over the loudspeaker that it was time to drop everything and read! In the middle of math class, in the middle of recess.
I remember pulling The Witch Family out from within my desk. It had no jacket, no words on the front cover. Just a simple illustration of a young witch on a broomstick and the title on the spine. The book was clothbound and fraying slightly at the edges even then, and teal, which quickly became and remains to this day my signature color. The edges of the pages were soft and curled, the binding already coming loose and the threads beginning to show. And I fell in love.
I do love the story of The Witch Family, but I fell in love with that physical book. I loved the weight of it in my hands. I loved the font, and the beautiful and somewhat haunting illustrations. I loved the smell of it, and the way it always fell open to my favorite pages. I loved the textured cloth binding, and the sparse cover. I felt like the book–the look of it, the tactile-ness of it, the reality of it–said something about me. Shined a light on some secret, tucked away bit of who I really was.
I read it over and over and over again, every year. Eventually I stopped reading it and just held it sometimes. I turned the pages gently and felt them strain and sigh against the weakening threads that kept them in place. I ran my fingers over the illustrations and always felt calmer afterward, like just spending some time with the book itself filled up an empty well in me. It became a comfort read that I never actually read anymore, but I hauled it around with me, gave it precious real estate on my limited dorm room book shelves. Kept it on my bedside table.
The book became so fragile I started to worry about damaging it irreparably. So I bought a new edition. Although the illustrations inside are the same, the cover is different, the feel and look and smell of it are different. I thought I could keep my precious comfort copy safely on my shelf, and lug around this new, sturdier version instead.
Of course, it didn’t work. I can’t stand the replacement copy. I’ve buried it deep in the darkest corners of my shelves and try not to think about it, honestly. I am tender with my familiar, clothbound edition. I turn the pages gingerly. It is the only book thats physical existence is more important to me than the story inside.
Do you have any books-as-sacred-objects in your life? Let us know which ones in the comments!