On Loving Paper More Than Words

October 31st, 2008 · 4 Comments
by Bernadette Swizzlestick

I’ll be blunt. Life in the Booksquare mail room has not been kind to me since my last post. In the last few weeks I’ve been inundated with more books than ever before. It’s almost as if some of you took my complaint as a challenge.

In the past week alone I’ve received dozens of books that are so poorly targeted I can’t even get the cleaning crew to take them off my hands. There’s a sci-fi novel about a kilted astronaut, scores of knitting themed romances, and yet another book featuring a large breasted woman wielding an enormous sword (generally I want to like these books because of the weaponry, but in reality they seldom satisfy).

As I’m writing this, the UPS man is headed for our delivery room after unloading a dolly full of boxes from his truck. Lord only knows what ridiculous titles this latest shipment will bring.

To some, however, my complaints are a form of blasphemy. I should, apparently, love all of these books simply because they’re printed on paper. These people seem to think that any book that doesn’t occupy physical space on the book shelf (or in the recycling bin, as the case may be) is not a “real” book.

For insight into the mind of a “real” book lover, consider this recent message from a now former Booksquare reader, complaining about this fine publication’s occasional discussion of ebooks.

I believe in real books… printed books, paper, dust jackets, leather bindings, antiquarian treasures.

My life has been spent with them… as a professional librarian, copy and acquisitions editor and bookseller, and a mom of four sons, granny of five, all of whom cherish their books.

Thanks anyhow…

A Real Book Lover

Dear A. Real,

First of all, I find it curious that you ever signed up for the Booksquare mailing list. After all, it is electronic. And believe me, it’ll stay that way as long as I’m running the mail room.

You say that you love books, but to be honest, I have my doubts. You claim to love the paper, the jackets, and the binding, but you haven’t mentioned a thing about the stories or ideas bound up in those printed volumes. It’s almost as if the words don’t matter to you.

Your letter briefly caused me to imagine what my book club might be like if we were all so enamored the physical artifact. As I imagine it, we would sit around discussing the binding and the quality of the paper. At some point, someone might bring up ink, and then we would all talk about glue for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that kind of book club would be fascinating (given enough wine). It just isn’t for me. But what do I know, I’m not a “real” book lover.

Allow me to suggest that you may have missed your calling. Instead of working as a librarian, you might consider a job in the paper industry. I hear Dunder Mifflin may be hiring.

Very truly yours,
Bernadette Swizzlestick

File Under: The Future of Publishing

4 responses so far ↓

  • Lynne Connolly // Nov 1, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    When I want to see a film I have a few choices. I went to see “Quantum of Solace” last night (awesome!) In the cinema. It was fun, and I enjoyed the communal experience. I’ll probably get the DVD when it comes out and when, in a year or two, it appears on the TV, I’ll probably watch it and curse at the adverts.
    Same film, different ways of watching it.

    When I want a book, my preference is electronic, but if I want a souvenir signed copy, I might buy it in print as well. But not hardback, I don’t really like hardbacks. I like the occasional audiobook, too, especially when I’m travelling.
    Same book, different ways of reading it.

    Printed books can be beautiful things, that’s for sure. I have some, like my limited edition of Yves St Laurent designs are treasures. I have others that I bought second hand, bent spines, creased pages, pages falling out, a bit smelly and with insects and other doubtful substances smearing the pages I would have preferred to read at arm’s length. I’m in the process of replacing my fiction print books with electronic ones, and I rarely buy a print book new now.

    It doesn’t really matter how you read it, just that you read it. IMO of course.
    And I was a librarian, for the first five years of my working life. But they don’t have just print books any more.

  • deb smith // Nov 3, 2008 at 10:17 am

    I recently saw a fascinating 1940’s Encyclopedia Brittanica film about the book-printing process. Watching a slew of craftspeople slowly, tediously, lovingly create each copy of a book back in the day made me respect the bound word as a collectible treasure. Which is one reason it ticks me off to see stacks of old books turned into lamps and such. But there’s a difference between cherishing the physical artifact and appreciating the ideas inside the binding. I love my old books for both their content and their craftsmanship, but I love the new world of e-publishing for its potential to spread the word (literally and figuratively) farther, deeper and wider than a printed copy of a book ever could.

  • Peter Jurmu // Nov 4, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I beat the hell out of my books. The bindings, the pages, and the covers are creased, stained, or torn. I throw away dust jackets from new purchases because they get in the way while I read. If a book on my shelf is in reasonably good condition, I probably haven’t read it yet (or found it too tedious to finish).

    That does not mean, however, that I’m in love with books. To the contrary: the format doesn’t matter to me. I’m after what’s bound, and not the binding. Modern readers for some reason think stories always existed as they do now (a tendency I’m sure they share with people who wanted to stick with the clay tablet and the scroll–or oral histories). “I believe in hieroglyphics,” groan their mummified ancestors.

    Of course I spin facetiously. I do have difficulty focusing when I use an e-reader, but that isn’t due to the inferiority of the format: I’m merely unaccustomed to it. If the idea of e-readers makes a lover of “real” books (whatever that means) bristle, I don’t see any guns pointed at heads.

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