My relationship with texts is deeply, inextricably mediated by my relationship with the codices in which they are represented. I suspect it's the same with many of my generation. I've been reading Pound's Cantos for a quarter-century now, & my experience of the poem always on some level involves the rust-jacketed hardcover I got for Christmas in 1986. My relationship with Ulysses is to some degree a relationship with the Random House Gabler edition; and that's not just the result of 15 years of successive palimpsestic marginalia in my father's 1986 hardcover, but involves the very typography, page layout, & pagination.
In short, sadly enough I'm as much a book accumulator – and caressor, & savorer – as I am a scholar. I'm sure I have friends who'd be delighted if they could load their entire libraries onto a Kindle (or Nook), but I have a wholly retrograde, deeply old-fashioned investment in paper pages and cloth (or paper) bindings.
We live in a region of extreme weather – extreme heat, big hurricanes, and (during the rainy season) daily torrential rains. And since there are bookcases in almost every room of the house, book are the coal-mine-canaries for leaks. I first discovered our upstairs bathroom had a problem when I took down a book from the top shelf of the built-ins in my study and found it was practically dripping. Alas, the Library of America, from Sinclair Lewis thru Vladimir Nabokov, had sustained severe damage.
While I was in San Francisco, another upstairs bathroom precipitated a flood into the kitchen. I came home to find the pantry newly cleaned out & reordered, & a great deal of junk on the window seat entirely removed, but it was only yesterday, taking down a cookbook to check the proportions for a dill aioli (which turned out beautifully, by the way – yes, I'm proud), that I discovered the water had gotten into the cookbook shelf. Not drastically, mind you – the only volume that can't be salvaged is a 2006 Miami Zagat's – and cookbooks so far as I'm concerned are meant to get beaten up.
Today, as we sat watching an episode of Slings & Arrows, my eye wandered from the TV screen to the adjacent bookcase, & I noticed an odd wrinkling to the dust jacket spine of John Sutherland's biography of Sir Walter Scott. Taking it down, I realized that at some point the book had been badly mishandled: the spine was split at the top. But I saw no water damage, & I'd been pretty paranoid about that particular case, as we've been struggling against a roof leak right over those books for some time now. But then I started exploring other volumes on the same shelf, & immediately got the sick feeling a book-lover gets when he feels books sticking to one another & to the shelf itself.
Short version: Somehow this shelf – the fourth down – and one other shelf – the bottom– had gotten wet sometime in the recent past. Scottish fiction & criticism, from maybe midway thru the Scott criticism thru Muriel Spark & the beginning of the Stevenson primary texts. I suppose you would say mild to moderate damage: water an inch or two up from the base of the books, some better, some largely entouched. Well-established mildew blights on maybe half-dozen books. Only two books, I think, are unsalvageable: a selection of Stevenson essays (heavily annotated, alas) and a nice illustrated volume that collects The Amateur Emigrant and The Silverado Squatters (the shiny paper tends to glue itself together when it gets wet). The rest have been opened & lysol'd and are ready to spend a little time in the sun tomorrow.
I remember how distraught I was when I came back to Blacksburg my sophomore year after the holidays & discovered the upstairs pipes had burst, ruining my copies of Eliot's The Waste Land and Selected Poems. These days I don't get awfully upset at water-damaged books, perhaps in part because I just plain have so many more books than I did back then. I'm sorry that Alexander Welsh's The Hero of the Waverley Novels is crinkly, but how often have I consulted it lately?
With many possessions, the Thoreauvians out there will say, come many worries. Which is true enough. But if I drop Old Mortality into the swimming pool, I can lay it in the sun & in a few hours it will be a wrinkled, puffy, but wholly readable artifact. I dare you to do that with your Kindle.