This post was prompted by a timely email promoting the Folio Society, an email with Jared Shurin and my own struggle with books as objects to own. 

The email was pretty straightforward PR email promoting their illustrated editions, which led me to looking at The Master and Margarita:

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I’ve got an ebook and a different translation and I really enjoyed it. Did I like it enough to buy a paper-based copy? And did I like it even more to own a deluxe version? And do I really need to have copy on my shelf when it’s already in the cloud and I can re-download it at any point?

As an illustration, I own a proof of a book that Jared of Pornokitsch loves and I’m going to send it to him, not because I didn’t like the book, but because he’s going to love owning the proof and having it on the shelves. I’m replacing it with a hardback.  

Another illustration, my SF Masterworks Challenge was partly prompted by seeing a small collection of yellow  spines on my shelves and feeling quite proud of saying, at some point in the future, that I’d read them all. 

I’m doing the same with Gladys Mitchell. I like seeing the red Vintage Classic spines on the shelves. And I like blocks of specific authors like Terry Pratchett, Fred Vargas, Neal Asher (who is a jumble of editions) sitting there. 

Then I have those books that are signed by some of my favourite authors, though I only find those special if they knew they were signing it for me (no shelf-stocked ones for me). I’m also very honoured to have several amazing proofs on my shelf of books, which I love and make me smile when I see them. 

I’m a big ebook reader. I’ve bought the ebook editions of several of the physical books I own just give myself an easy reading life. But I still keep the physical editions of those that I’ve liked. 

Saying that though I’m very good at giving away books that I’ve read that don’t mean anything to me. I guess I’d like to still have The Hobbit and the rest of LOTR on my shelves but I’m not going to re-read them any time soon and LOTR  especially isn’t going to make me smile by looking at it, though I’d smile at The Hobbit as I loved re-reading that one.  

I got rid of my Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson books along with lots of others when I moved and don’t miss them in the slightest. 

However, I’m glad that I’ve kept authors like Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Dave Duncan, Poppy Z Brite, who meant something to me at different points in my reading and personal life. 

And oddly when I’m buying books at the minute I’m debating whether I want it as an ebook or a physical one. Is it something to look at after I’ve bought it? Or would I be happy for it to sit in the cloud?

Plus, I’m going back to enjoying seeing the progress of a book as I read it, you don’t quite get that feel with an ebook, though my new Paperwhite has a ‘time left in chapter’ counter, which does give that feeling of just one more chapter as it’s only x minutes long, though feeling the thinness of a book towards then end if still hard to beat.

Then there are books that I’m never going to buy/enjoy as ebooks. Cooking books and books of poetry are two types of books that just can’t work in electronic form. 

I’ve said before that the market is going to mess with the established order of hardback followed six to twelves months later by the paperback. We already have hardback and ebooks being released at the same time. Fifty Shades of Grey went from being ebook only to having a paperback then a special edition hardback. All editions aimed at different types of readers. 

And that’s mainly the point. There are different editions for different people. Sadly hardbacks are getting rarer because the lack of library ordering, who were their major purchaser. So I think that we are still for a while going to get a choice of editions.

Though I can see a future for special edition hardbacks and ebooks and less paperbacks. 

Sorry, that was a bit of a ramble, but I’m really not sure how I feel. 

What about you? Do you see books as objects to own and have you paid that little bit extra for those special editions? 

8 Thoughts on “Thoughts: Books As Something To Own

  1. I absolutely enjoy books as artefacts as well as just, well, conduits for ideas/information. A few years ago I treated myself to a foot-and-a-half tall leather and vellum facsimile of the Kelmscott Chaucer (I wrote a thesis on Chaucer once…) which I don’t actually read, because it’s too beautiful and I’m paranoid about spoiling it. So, yeah, books as beautiful things is definitely something that’s important to me.

    Of course it’s very rare that I have the luxury of being able to splash-out on hardbacks/limited editions etc. but that just makes it all the more special when I do.

    Excellent post. :)

  2. I really like special edition books and own a few myself, all from Subterranean Press and most Neil Gaiman books. It can be an expensive habit and one I am rarely able to indulge in but sometimes you just have to go for it.

  3. Laura Caldwell on 20 January, 2013 at 10:32 pm said:

    This is SO complicated. Books that I just want to read and have no plans for in my future come from the library or are downloaded as cheap e-reads (not full price). Then if I love them, I will watch to buy them, probably used and cheap, to put on my shelves. They sit there for me to see and to evoke certain feelings. I can buy many of my “real” books to read for 50 cents at my library sale shelves. That’s cheaper then most ebooks. If I love them and anticipate rereading them, I will keep them. Otherwise I will re-donate them back to the library “sell shelves.” Books that I anticipate loaning out (mostly non-fiction) I will purchase as real books. My daughter (an art student) is into old-fashioned letter-press printing. I believe the future for a lot of actual printed books are those that are beautiful and evoke feelings for those who collect and display them on their shelves as works of both visual and written art.

  4. Well, I had an interesting experience on the plane: I discovered that my copy of Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return was signed by the author — it wasn’t described as such when I ordered it. Pleasant surprise, no?

    That’s part of what I love about books. :)

    For me, books are a collector’s item. I probably own close to 2,500 books now, all crammed into a tiny little apartment. Maybe 100-200 of them are signed or special books in some way (I have a 100+ year old copy of Swiss Family Robinson, for example). I love them. Books are wonderful things, and I think there’s something powerful about having a huge library.

    Besides, I really want to surprise people when I die. They’ll go through all these books and discover things that would make people who don’t know me draw all kinds of strange conclusions. :)

  5. You’ve hit a spot there. I’m glad I am not the only one crazy enough to own books in both electronic and hardback format.

    I mostly read on my ereader (never thought I’d be that much in love with it, but there you have it) but when I come across a book that I love – doesn’t even have to be illustrated – I need it on my shelf. I want to stroke the spine and think longingly of the wonderful hours of reading it has give me. Since I discovered her, I have bought all of Catherynne M. Valente’s books in ebook format plus the ones I’ve read in hardback. I also like to think it helps the author – after all, I am paying twice for the same content. Since ebooks are mostly very cheap (if you look at different online shops) so I’m happy to pay 10 or even 20 Euro for a beautiful hardback edition – and I get the feeling that the author can buy themselves a nice lunch for that (even though that is probably being very optimistic).

    Illustrations and great cover art will do their part in convincing me that I have to have a physical copy. Based on that, I bought Jean-Christophe’s Aurorarama in hardback and while I haven’t even read it yet, it just looks gorgeous on the shelf. And it has photographs and illustrations, so there you go. The same goes for series or special editions – you mentioned the SF Masterworks but there are also the Penguin clothbound editions of Dickens, Austen, the Brontes and so on. I wish I had all of those on my shelf and I wouldn’t mind buying all of them, even though you can get these for free as ebooks.

    I used to be a paperback-only reader. Now I find myself either reading only the ebook or, if I love the book, ebook and hardback. Because they are sturdier and just more beautiful to look at. So yeah, that is exactly what you say – a book as an object to own. I don’t know how many editions of Peter Pan I currently own but it’s more than ten. And if I find one I don’t have yet, maybe illustrated by a different artist, I’m going to grab it without a second thought. Ah booklovers… we are a little crazy, aren’t we?

  6. I think this is one of the reasons why I’m so reluctant with eBooks still. I love having a collection of books sitting on my shelves from various stages in my reading life (though I’ve had to give quite a few away because of space issues). It’s quite nice to be able to look at the collection I’ve amassed; something that doesn’t translate into eBook territory.

    Jamie

  7. The ebooks make the life of a reader easier, there are a few heavy tomes that are more easily handled on the e-readers. However, despite the comfort offered by the e-readers I still find myself picking up and enjoying more the feeling given by the reading of a physical book. Since my teenage years, when I saved money just for a book I saw in the bookshop, I liked to own my favorite books. Even those that i read from the local library and really liked ended up bought and on my bookshelves. As I come to think of it certainly looks a bit similar as with ebooks, although different since I do own the ebook. But I still love to see the books I cherish on my shelves.
    I do have to clean those bookshelves though since there are a few books that I ended up on the back row because I don’t have any intention of reading them, but for some reason I ended up owning them. Do I need physical books? The answer might be no, but I love the looks of physical books, I love some of the amazing artworks of book covers and it is easier to see them by picking the book up from the shelves rather than going over a few buttons just to reach the beginning of the ebook edition. Also, I have a Kindle and I have absolutely no pleasure in seeing the book covers. They seem to have no soul although it is the same with the cover of the physical book. Maybe these are just reasons for me to excuse my old-fashioned side, but I believe it is the actual pleasure of seeing the books and living around them. And although I will not manage to re-read a certain book I still love to open it from time to time, sit in my favorite armchair and read just a single chapter. I am less inclined to do so with an e-reader.

  8. I like collecting books and that what pushed me towards ebooks as my primary format. I was becoming disgusted with the quality of hardbacks being printed lately, even for major titles from major publishes. Spending $35 on a hardback with acidic paper so thin you can see the text on the opposite side was ridiculous. I started looking at ebooks and decided they were the best archive format.

    I still love buying physical books, but at this point I try and restrict them to collectors editions and library editions where I can be assured of some level of quality. Otherwise, I am not spending a premium on a hardback that won’t last 15 years before the paper breaks down.

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