Friday, June 22, 2012

good on paper

There's an interesting post on NPR Books, Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books which got me to thinking: I am not an e-book reader, I am a print-book reader, and I can't really imagine I'll change.

The story, which you don't really need to read to get the gist of, describes inheriting books from family or friends, and the future of such hand-me-downs in the digital world.  I choose print books because I have an emotional (good or bad or indifferent) attachment to books: they're like a souvenir, or a trophy for me. H. is the same, and our shared library is increasingly daunting in a Brooklyn apartment of limited space.

I like to own my books, and hold them in my hand, and have them on my shelf. Which is not to say I keep every book (see above about Brooklyn apartment/limited space). H. and I both work in book publishing (and so right there have an heightened attachment to the printed word), so we acquire books almost by accident. Book swaps with other publishers, recommended books in your mailbox from friends, conferences where books are cheap or free - a book hoarder's dream! Seasonal book culls are necessary. But for most books that I've chosen to read, I like to keep them. Sometimes I revisit them, and often I forget I ever read them, but each one is a souvenir of sorts.

I have a habit of leaving a little memento in books I've read. Nothing much - just a bookmark, a receipt, a random piece of paper. Because I travel a lot for work and play, I most often leave boarding passes or ticket stubs in my books.

Similarly, H. writes his name and date in his books.

I like going back and looking through the books I've read, and being reminded of when and where I read the book, what was going on, even of my old name (hello Abigail "Cox", old friend!). Even more, I like the idea of my children or grandchildren looking back one day and wondering about my trips and my life, and maybe being inspired to read one of my old books.

Sure, it might never happen. Listen, I work in publishing, I know just how shoddily and cheaply books are made these days - but, you never know. I recently inherited a 3 volume set of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with this inscription:

From an affectionate friend, "on leaving Eton...1866"
I can't imagine Stuart here thought his gift would be sitting in Brooklyn 146 years later. Who knows where our library will be in 50!

Someone once told me that I should pick up the hobby of collecting books. He meant books of monetary value. Meh, I have no interest in first editions and autographed copies. We tend to pick up random old books here and there - books of poetry, sometimes, or household management, or games for kids. I guess we are collectors of a sort.

FYI, Sex Without Fear was a wedding gift from some "funny" friends.
The books have no monetary value, and never will, but they once meant something to their original owners, and they now have value to us.

I put too much value in the book as an object, and not just a story (or manual), to give up on the printed book in favor of e-books. Of course, you never know - I also once said I'd never get a smartphone, and look at me now.

{{P.S. I should say that I take no issue with e-books. I think anyone would agree that reading is good, no matter what format or what is read. Everyone has their own relationship to writing, and this is just part of mine.}}


  1. I completely agree with everything. I love seeing all my books on my bookshelf and feasting my eyes on the different spines and remembering reading each one. I always write my name in the inside cover of my books and when a friend borrows one, I get them to write their name under mine. It's such a great way to track the book and I love knowing who else has read it before (or after) I have. Your 'PS' I think is important as I often get called out for making statements about how much I dislike ebooks, but that's just a personal preference. I am glad that people are reading. I just can't imagine scrolling through epages trying to find that passage I like. I love flipping through a book to find a quote you want to share with someone else.

    Plus, let's be honest - I look at a computer screen all day. The last thing I want to do when I go home is read from another screen!

    Great post.

    - A

    1. I LOVE the idea of having friends who borrow books write their names in too! Like an old library lending card!

      And yes yes yes about looking at a computer screen all day. Although, I'm guilty of looking at it all night too, just not spreadsheets!

  2. I love books. Love them. I have since I was four years old and I read my very first one. But ... I'm a book junkie, and not all of them good, and most none of them considered more than trash (what can I say, I love those damn victorians and their romances). I've had my e-reader for awhile now and it's great for devouring my genre of choice, but for the classics - the really good ones that will survive time and taste - I'm going to keep those forever and I don't care if I'm the last person in the world that doesn't style my bookshelves because (gasp!) they're FILLED WITH BOOKS.

    1. Don't get me started about styling your shelves. I hate seeing them in color-coordinated rainbow order. It makes me think people care more about books as decor and not books as books. My books are in order by subject, for easy reference.

  3. Excellent post. I love finding mementos in my old books too. Perhaps like you I should start being more intentional about it.


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