I'm not gonna lie -- I'm rough on my books. There's a school of thought treating the physical manifestation of the written word as a sacred object, and I fully respect that. However I, for one, shove an old copy of "How to Cook a Wolf" into the bottom of my bag with the notion that at some point it'll sustain me on an overextended subway ride. I read "The Devil in the Kitchen" in the bathtub, A.J. Liebling over a lunchtime reuben, and good gosh a-mighty are my cookbooks covered in schmutz.
But hey, it's thematic goo; "Molto Italiano" is spattered in tomato sauce, "Pie" -- seen above -- is all a-smear in lard, "Charleston Receipts" in Otranto Club Punch and "Staff Meals from Chanterelle" slicked with a fine mist of rendered rind bacon. To my mind, these books are being honored, used, proven. Should these books at some point have a subsequent owner, they'll know what's been tested, made and made again.
Still, am I dishonoring the object or the authors when I'm getting the books all mucky? I posed the question to Matthew Lee (whose book "The Lee Bros. Southern Cooking" I've doused in all manner of pickling brine), and he noted that he and his co-author, his brother Ted have debated pre-mucking-up copies of their book to nix the blank canvas factor. The recipes therein are warm of heart and humble of origin, so it's not out of character, but would, say, a gellan-gumming of Grant Achatz's "Alinea" be a crime against the rather expensive and exceptionally lovely object?
Do you keep your cookbooks in pristine condition, or do you just accept page stains as collateral damage?