On removing a book from a shelf, my first act is generally to cock it so that I can see how grubby it is and then blow the dust off it or – more usually I must admit – rub the book against my trousers or skirt to cleanse it of the more persistent filth. Maybe pick off a stubborn clot of cobweb. I’m not really a duster of books, well I’m not really a duster of anything, being more in the slatternly line of things. Since I’ve never seen anyone dust books, not even my mother (although I concede I might be wilfully repressing any such memories) (and also that my entire social circle – darling – might consist solely of fellow slatterns), it never really occurred to me that it was something which needed to be done. However, the Flemish are a clean people, their homes are spotless and many of them even wash the pavement outside their houses quite regularly, and this has led me to question my assumptions about housekeeping and wonder whether Other People Dust Their Books.
(Well some people obviously do: ‘Three men ... dusting books’ (1913), photograph; New York Public Library Visual Materials)
So, dear friends and internets, I thought I would put it to you. Do you dust your books? Often? Are you secretly horrified at my dirty books, or are you nodding in agreement as spiders dance and swing across the bookcase behind you? Do you take pleasure in dusting and thus revisiting old friends? Do you handle your books regularly? Chat to them? Am I a User and an Abuser, who gives a book my love and attention for a few brief hours and then abandons it on a shelf, to years of grime and neglect? I await your thoughts.