Thursday 21 February 2013

For the Love of Books

I've been thinking about buying an eReader. I don't have one, and whenever I've bought an ebook it's been to read on my phone. So far that's limited what I've bought to short story collections, mostly. And even those are a bit of a pain to read on such a small screen. But then I started thinking that I didn't really want an eReader. Not yet, at least, and I had a look at a few in various shops and they didn't seem that great, to be honest. So I thought about writing a post about how rubbish eReaders are. But then I didn't like the negativity of that.

Instead, I decided to write about how great books are, and put into words why I think books will always have a place in my heart. A lot of these reasons, if not all, have no digital equivalent. Or at least, not one that I can think of.

Small Hardbacks
I love small hardbacks. I think they're pretty much the embodiment of book perfection. I'm talking about the ones that are about A5 size, and are hardback but don't have a dust jacket. They're substantial without being too bulky, portable but far more hard-wearing than a paperback. They feel right in the hand, they're beautiful to look at, and they exude quality.

Gorgeous, aren't they?

Folios / Special Editions
There is, I suppose, an argument that putting fancy packaging around a book is gilding the lily. Well, perhaps that's true to some extent. But although the words are obviously the most important part, there's something desperately sad about books being considered no more than simply their text. People can be sniffy about novels with pictures, too - but how could you not love a copy of Cold Comfort Farm illustrated by Quentin Blake? Or a book of Irish short stories, spiced up with a few bold, stylish block prints? Add to this the hard-to-quantify aesthetic differences brought by high quality paper and clothbound covers, and you have a reading experience that feels like a real indulgence. The way it should be, really.

Folio editions: making wonderful books even more wonderfuller

Signed Copies

No matter how beautiful books are, they are (in the main) mased objects. There's not much to distinguish one from the other. So, having the author scribble on the front page is the perfect way to turn a run-of-the-mill book into something unique and individual. The basic signed book, such as those the author signs on behalf of a bookshop, are great in that they have that "touched by the pen of..." quality, but even better is the signed and dedicated book. Having the actual author write your name in your copy of the book, personalises it in a way that can't be bettered.

Sarah Hall added the "Good Luck!" when she found out I wrote short stories...

First Editions
I'm not really a book collector, but I do keep an eye out for first editions.

Steven Hall's "Raw Shark Texts". Apparently the very first printings had the first three pages in green ink. But I'm happy with this one.

It's not so much about the value, it's about getting closer to the creation of the story. I love the idea of owning one of the first batch of books that made it out into the world; there's an optimism about it, as though the book still carries some of the hopes and dreams of the author, regardless of whether it went on to be a massive blockbuster or disappeared without a trace. Each reprint, every new edition, feels like another step further away from that moment when the book launched in its 'natural' state. No or hardly any cover quotes, no pages of review extracts inserted into the front, just, "Here's a book. Enjoy."

My treasured A Scanner Darkly first edition. Definitely not one to read while eating spaghetti bolognese

Variety is the spice of life. Though cliched, it's entirely true. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of books (or music albums, or films) just being filler for a little black box. I like to see creativity - it inspires me, makes me want to be creative, too. Even within the relatively tight constraints of a standard book format - it's pretty much rectangular, it's made of a wad of pages with a cover wrapped around three sides - there still seems to be huge variety in how books are presented. A row of thumbnails on a virtual shelf, or a real bookshelf jostling with different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, materials and designs? No prizes for guessing which appeals more to me!

The fantastically innovative "An A-Z of Possible Worlds" by A.C. Tillyer - a collection of short stories, printed individually and presented in a little storage box.

So, that's why I like books. Have I missed any reasons? What do you like about those lumpy paper-stuffed objects cluttering up your home? Or have you made the leap to digital and will never go back to dead trees?

Don't forget!
I'm judging the Erewash Writers' Group Flash Fiction Competition. Up to 500 words themed around "Start" - it could be the start of something, a couple trying to start over, a car that won't start, you name it. It's free to enter, you can win a copy of Somewhere to Start From, and the winning story will be published on the EWG website (global exposure for your work!). The closing date is 21 March 2013, so get going! I listed a few tips on how to make your story stand out, HERE. Good luck!


Unknown said...

Great post, Dan. I would defend eReaders. They're marvellous when you are travelling or reading in bed and you don't have to worry about damaging the jackets or the pages, not to be recommended for reading in the bath, though. However, like you, I shall always treasure the paper version. I especially love my collection of books on art. I love your writer's bio too.

Patsy said...

I have an eReader and I like it. I like books too.

One advantage of paper books is that they can be given as gifts.

Chloe said...

I love small hardbacks and detest dust covers. Nearly always get rid of the dust jackets even though I know the chance of making a fortune from selling the book in 50 years time will greatly diminish... (what? The Good Housekeeping recipe book WON'T be worth millions during my lifetime?)

BettyMcFab said...

Books, books, books. They look so nice on the bookshelves. I also love browsing friend's shelves when I go to their homes. And bookshops, well...
Like you, I just read e-books on my phone - which can be useful when you have an unexpected wait and hadn't thought to bring an actual book.
I'm not ready for an e-reader yet.

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks, everyone.

Fiona, I'm not anti-ebooks or eReaders, I just don't like the idea of them becoming the only option, which is something that may happen if people only buy books online (so high street bookshops disappear) and then make the switch to buying all their books electronically. I can see how ebooks have their benefits, and I can imagine I'll get one eventually, but I'd hope it never accounted for more than half of the books I buy.

Patsy, the gift aspect is something I missed. Some of my favourite books are ones that were given to me.

Do you actually throw the dust jackets away, Chloe? I tend to take them off when I read the books, but I keep them somewhere safe!

Rebecca, I have a few books on my phone. I think there were six or so classics on there when I first got it. Like you, I tend to use it when I have an unexpected wait. It's not ideal, though - I think I've been reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for about eighteen months now...

Rachel Fenton said...

I love this post! I hated the idea of eReaders before I had one, and now - since I won an i-pad and got a kindle reader on there - I'm justified in hating them! OK, hate is a strong word. I still prefer real books, paper - texture and smell - the perch fit of a book nestled over my thumb. And each page records a moment of my life in crumb, spill, hair, eyelash or tear. There is little so dear as a book.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you've said, Dan and (if my husband would let me!) I'd love to designate a room in my house as a library. However, I like my Kindle too. I like being able to read independently published stuff that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.
But I get annoyed at all these bestsellers available for 20p - what chance does that give the Indies at selling their work, when they're tied to a minimum price of 77p?!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dan, some hot book action in those photos! I was going to type out a response commenting on your points but decided it would probably be long enough for me to write a whole blog post about it so I think I'll do that instead!

To quickly add to the dust cover debate - I too find them annoying and remove them from the book ASAP, intending to put them back on once I've finished reading but usually losing them somewhere along the way. I don't find my books get particularly dusty in their absence though.

Dan Purdue said...

Rachel, I quite like the way books look on the screen of iPads and similar devices, but I always find there's something lacking in the overall reading experience. Perhaps there is something in the way a book will be different each time you come back to it, physically, whereas an electronic file will always be exactly the same?

Sally, you're right - I'm concerned about the 'race to the bottom' of the 20p bestseller. It turns books into a way of selling eReaders, which is surely the wrong way around. It's like Ford offering cut-price fuel, but for it to only work in their cars.

Ric, haha, yes, hardcore book-porn indeed. Maybe I should have put a warning at the top of the post. And dust jackets ... I find my books get dusty on the tops, so a jacket doesn't really help. Perhaps some sort of dust umbrella would be more appropriate?

Anonymous said...

Oh man - it's as if 'I' had written this post! Reading SS on my phone too and can't bring myself to buy an ereader either - plus I'm always running out of battery for everything! The ereader would be no different.

I agree with EVERYTHING you've said. Only problem is shelving space for me...

I love that books can be pieces of art too. I have never seen that A-Z before - what a great SS packaging idea. Delicious.

I admit to buying a few first editions, hard backs and folios for all the same reasons. To me, a good looking book is like putting a crown on a king - it's the only way to manifest the wonderful words for all to see. It fits.

Anonymous said...

I think you're probably just about ok without a warning Dan. Those are lovely pictures but you've not included anything weird - if you had some pictures of miniature designer bindings (seriously hot stuff) you might need to make this post for over-18s only.


Dan Purdue said...

Hi Freya - Yes, I heard somebody say on the radio a while ago that it would be a tragedy if nobody in the future could read anything without needing a power source. I'd never considered it like that before, but there is something deeply sad about the thought. OK, you could argue that reading a book by the bedside lamp amounts to the same thing, but it's not quite the same as everything needing a battery just to see the words.

The A-Z is beautifully done. The stories share a concept, but are entirely independent. The packaging reflects this wonderfully.

Steady on, Ric. Miniature designer bindings? Whoa. Did it just get hot in here? I'm off to lie down in a darkened room with a damp flannel over my forehead.