February 23, 2008

A Confession

I love books. I don't mean just that I love to read books, although I do. But I love books. It's true.

Books, to me, are much more than containers for texts. You can't separate a text from its physical encasement, from its book-body. Case in point: my favourite novel is, unquestionably, Pride and Prejudice. But I love it the most in one particular edition: a small hardback from Oxford World's Classics published in 1985 (ISBN 1851520074). The words are small, black, and dense, and there are no illustrations. The whole thing fits in my coat pocket or my purse. I own other versions, but none of them can compete with my favourite. It is my own definitive edition, the format in which Pride and Prejudice means the most.

It's all completely personal, of course. It's a physical infatuation. If books were dudes, I'd be constantly throwing myself at them -- but for they bodies, not their brains. I'm always somewhat boggled by people who read (and even champion) eBooks and the like. I know that they're generally less expensive than book-books -- but does that really justify it? How can people stand to just sit there and poke buttons, staring at a tiny backlit screen?

Books are sensual. The physicalness of a book is part of the whole reading experience. Think of it: the whisper of pages as you turn them. Think of the comforting weight of a book in your hands. Think of the reassuring presence of a book in pocket bag.  Remember your favourite covers.

The publishing industry knows that the physicality of books is important. Would there ever be a need for new editions, otherwise? Some re-published books contain new information, true: updates to technical matters, or new scholarly introductions. But the vast bulk, I think, are just the same except for their physical details. Perhaps new editions have new cover art, or a better typeface. Perhaps they just feel better, with silkier pages or a different thickness/height ratio. How they're different isn't as important as why they're different: because books are amazing.

I love having books, too, but perhaps that is a different matter.

1 comment:

trish said...

I don't think I could get into ebooks either. With physical books, I love the cover art, the fonts, the whole package, really. It's a very tactile experience, and I'm rarely as happy as when I'm holding a book and reading it.

...and I love owning books as well. Yesterday I compared books to cocaine...I suppose they are my vice. :D