A twenty-first century person doesn’t often have the chance to cut the pages of a book. It was once true that cutting open the edges of the pages of a printed volume, slicing the edges of every other (or some other regular sequence) set of pages of a book in bound form, was part of the process of a book owner becoming acquainted with her new purchase. Each page lovingly opened (I should hope), anticipating the reading experience.
From Hedda Gabler, Act II (Tesman discussing Lovborg’s new book, recently acquired):
I’m surprised at how restrained it is. He never wrote like this – when I knew him. (gathers up all the books) Well, I’ll put these in my study. What a joy to cut the pages – hmm?
There are many accounts to be found of this rare physical pleasure, on-line and otherwise. I found this one recently: http://www.hackwriters.com/cutpagesEL.htm.
“Cutting the pages”. A physical component of a bibliophile’s experience that we no longer enjoy unless we acquire older volumes, such as the 1928 volume Art of the Night by George Jean Nathan I wrote about in my previous post. Ah yes. And while someone once proudly owned this signed first edition (so “proudly” that they plastered their personal book-plate on the inside front cover, egad), they never cut open the pages of the book. In practical terms this is conclusive evidence that this particular book, binding a bit beat up yet pages in great condition, has never been read. I feel it is my duty to love it up. Appropriately.
First step: cutting the pages.