Persons, places and things: The ‘broken’ book

Barb Arland-Fye
Colin Fye stands in front of the family library.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Some of the books in our family’s living room bookcase appear more worn out than other books, a sure sign that our son Colin has been reading them frequently and with enthusiasm. Our efforts to remind our adult son with autism to turn pages carefully do not register when he becomes absorbed in the book’s content and the rhythmic, comforting sound of turning pages.

More than a few of the books belong to me, purchased during the years I studied with Deacon Class VI for my Master of Pastoral Theology degree. I hoped to keep the books in good condition for future reference. Colin’s visits to the bookcase make that goal unrealistic. The first of the theology books he has worn out is “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.” I think Colin loves this soft-cover book, now curled and battered, because it allows him to match the numbered citations with Scripture passages in the Bibles he reads.

Even the hardcover books, however, take an unintended beating in my son’s hands. In the beginning, I told him to ask permission to take books from the bookcase but he forgot and so did I, until picking up one of the battered books for my use. Last weekend, as he took another theology book from the shelves, I stopped him. That book had not been battered, yet. A little voice (maybe the whisper of God) told me to let it go, that keeping books in pristine condition on a shelf demonstrates my coveting of possessions. Still, I resisted the voice and told Colin to put the book back on the shelf.


An email from a reader of The Catholic Messenger caused me to reflect on my relation to books and to my son. The reader asked for the return of a hardcover book on President Abraham Lincoln that she loaned to Colin several years ago. Oh, no, what will that book look like, I thought, hoping that he still had the book in his apartment.

Asked if he remembered the book, Colin smiled, recalling the book’s title with delight. “It’s broken!” he told me, referring to the book. “What do you mean it’s broken?” I asked. He could not explain and I could not imagine his definition of broken until he brought the book to our house. The book no longer has its dust cover and is in two pieces, separated from the binding. It also has what Colin described as a “permanent bookmark,” meaning he taped a paper bookmark to the pages. I tried to remove the bookmark, but took some of the words from the page with it.

The reader responded graciously to my initial email that her book might be worn out. She said she appreciates books with wear and tear; some of her books are held together with tape. This book, which she loaned to us in pristine condition, will require gorilla tape to hold it together!

Looking at the broken book, Colin promises with sincerity that he will “turn the pages carefully” when he reads any book. Two soft-cover books that I use regularly, a dictionary and the Bible, serve as exhibits A and B of my guilt regarding the care of books. Both books are worn out, with curled pages. The words from Ephesians, Chapter 4:32 come to mind: “[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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