Friday 2 April 2010

Book love - and its various symptoms

So I was glancing through the comments on one of Neal Asher's recent posts about book piracy, and I saw a comment from a chap called Andy, of which the opening sentences caught my attention:
"People who love reading often share a common trait: we want to have a copy of the books we read on our shelves, certainly the best ones anyway. It's like a trophy, you pull it out at some point after you read it, months or years later, and think about the story and maybe read it again if you can't remember all the finer details..."
I like the way Andy refers to the books as being a trophy - the use of that particular word really struck a chord with me. To some extent this is how I regard some of my books, as 'trophies' of my reading achievements - mementoes of some great reading experiences. I often find myself - I'd love to know how many of you guys also do this - standing in front of my book shelves, just flicking through my books randomly; picking up whichever title catches my eye, and just reading random segments. I don't even know why, but for some reason I can just stand there doing that for ages at a time. Sometimes I think about the story that the paragraph might be from, while other times I'll think more about the prose itself - the style, the technique of the writer.

Why do I - we? - do this? Not sure, but personally I imagine it's a physical symptom of my love for books and the written word.

Another habit that I've got - another symptom, if you will - is that I love to hold books, to touch them. I love the feel of the embossed title on the front cover, the texture of the paper, even the smell of the paper.  I'll stand there, almost in a semi-trance, running my hands over the book. And yeah, I do this in bookshops - normally without even realising it. People must think I'm nuts, and to a small extent I do as well. But there's just something so...enticing about the feel and scent of a book.

I guess this is why I really have a problem with e-readers. Sure, I can understand that they have their uses, but for me you just can't replace a physical book. Staring at words on a screen just doesn't do it for me; I have to have the book in my hands, be able to feel the pages between my fingers - hell, even the rustle of the pages is something I'd really miss if I was reading from an e-reader (hence why to date, I've refused all offers of PDF review copies).

I just love books - the actual, physical book.

So...what do you all think? Am I just a bit weird, or do you also have familiar symptoms of 'book love'? Do you also like to stand there, happily thumbing through whatever book catches your attention from your bookshelf? Do you love the feel of the book in your hands?

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences - and I hope I'm not alone!


Bryce L. said...

I never thought of it like that before, but that's exactly true. They are trophies and that's the best way to describe them.

My dream, once I'm in a more permanent place, is to have at least two huge bookshelves (or a multiple thereof). In one, I'll have completed books, in the other To-Read books. I never thought of it till now, but that's my trophy case dream.

I think digital readers will get more and more popular, but I also think the printed book will take a long time, if ever, to go out of style.

Patrick said...

Don't worry James you are not alone. I like the physical object of the book and what it represents. I don't know if I would categorize it as a trophy per se but it is along those same lines. Its really like coin collecting or baseball cards, but you can actually get value out the contents in your collection. That is where people get confused.

Would you tell baseball card collectors that and wikipedia have all the stats they ever need and expect them to get rid of their collection?

It's something I am thinking a lot about now as I just received a Kindle for my birthday. I love the accessibility and the portability of the Kindle, but I know that I will miss the physical presence of a book on my shelf. I want to have both a hard copy and a digital copy. It's the same reason why I sometimes buy final versions of books I reviewed in ARC format...

It's going to be an interesting journey to say the least.

Cara said...

I feel the same way... and thought it was just me! There's nothing like the smell of a new book, all that promise and anticipation.
I like Seak's idea of 2 huge bookshelves, but mine is to have an entire room shelved and filled with a mix of old favourites and to-be-read books, with a large, comfy window seat. Bliss :-)

Mad Hatter Review said...

You are echoing my thoughts exactly. These are the main reasons I'm against eReaders. I borrowed a Kindle from a friend for two weeks this past summer and the whole experience just felt wrong. I need to have the real thing and it needs to be on my shelf. And if it is a favorite I need a very nice, prefably signed, copy on glory shelf.

gav ( said...

I think you've separated the content from the object. You can love a book and see the enormity of work that has gone into a pile of them. But to then dismiss the content away from the packaging seems strange.

What do you read for? Do you read for the meeting of minds that happens when you read words that have been selected by another to tell a story or do you read to have those words bound in pretty packaging and to feel what you are reading?

ebooks and ereaing is just a way of showing that in the end content is king. you don't need the pretty packaging to enjoy the story.

Yes some things like reading an ebook via PDF etc on a screen, the same way you do 'work', is going to be awkward and strange. And isn't how I'd choose to do it and I don't.

I eread on my iPhone via the Kindle app. I can read at great speed and it feels normal to see those virtual pages fly. The same is said for my Sony e-ink reader.

The only issue is formatting and when it doesn't feel like a real book. And that is becoming better - they are putting more effort into making that experience as book like as possible.

And the iBook store is very exciting for that instant read on a bigger screen.

I really do think that more people will be able enjoy reading on a device they already carry like an iphone than especially choosing to take a book with them.

Though real books are brilliant - you have a fetish for books more than the content… sorry. But as long as you're reading I don't mind!

T.S. Bazelli said...

I treat my books like a collection. I love the way they feel in my hands, and the papery smell of the library - rows and rows upon books - is one of my favorite things in the world.

I've started reading some e-books, but if the story becomes one of my favorites, I'll go and buy the physical book to keep. I don't know... there's something about it.

James said...

Thanks guys, for your comments and for letting me know I'm not alone in my book-feeling-festishes!

Gav - Obviously content is everything, at the end of the day I read books because I love reading. If books ceased to exist (a horrible thought) and we only had e-readers, then I'd read on e-readers. It is definitely about content, not the medium. But that said...I love the physical feel/look of books, and looking at a load of text on a screen just doesn't give me the same sense of excitement or anticipation.

Neth said...

adding to the chorus here - you're certainly not alone. And trophy is word I've used quite often over the years. My wife has no problem discarding books she's already read - I just can't do that.

Stephen Aryan said...

I don't think it's a fetish. Yes the content is the most important thing and a recent discussion about book covers raised a lot of interesting questions about how vital covers are, but I'm with James on this. I like the physical object, the feel and the weight. And sometimes reading a book can be a tactile experience (see Abercrombie's parchment books from First Law trilogy off the top of my head). Also I sometimes find myself flicking back to pore over a map to work out the path travelled by characters, or I look at the cover and the more you read, the more it can mean and it can effect you emotionally as you become more attached to the characters.

I don't have an iPhone or kindle, and don't read books on my computer and personally I don't want to. I can see the benefits of doing so, however I'd be much less upset about losing a book worth five pounds then being mugged or dropping my X hundred pounds bit of electronic tech down a drain. I see the benefits in terms of being able to carry X hundred many books around on one tiny book sized device, but as I only read one book at a time it doesn’t offer me anything beyond a real book.

Also with some of the digital readers you don't really own the book, you have a loan of a digital copy. Just checked the facts on this and it was the estate of George Orwell that made Amazon withdrew all copies of Animal Farm and 1984 from all kindles and people who had them received a note saying you've got a full refund. That’s worrying to me, because if in 10 years circumstances change and another Estate decides they don’t want digital copies they might vanish too off e-readers, just like that. You can stop the signal apparently!

I also get excited when I see a new cover, or see the book on the shelf for the first time in a bookshop. I can’t queue up to get my kindle signed by the author at a guest talk of his or her latest release. Give me a physical copy of the book every time.

James said...

Neth - I'm getting better at it. I mean, with the amount of books I receive these days, I have to be pretty brutal with the books I keep and those that bite the dust - I just don't have space for all of them. So unless I really like a book, it doesn't tend to make the collection.

Stephen - I heartily concur. :)

Neth said...

James, I know what you mean - it was hard enough for me when I was buying 50 or so books a year. Now I receive 200-300 a year from publisher (and still by a dozen or two). Space has run out and I hate boxing up books. I've culled quite a bit and I need to do more, but what I really need is a dedicated library (and the lottery winnings build it).

Dan Smyth said...

Ah. I'm so bad about collecting books. In fact, I can't conceive of your situation, James, where you actually have to get rid of books because you have so many coming in. Whoa. I might actually try moving a few times to a larger home before getting rid of books that I own. It's bad. And of course, my wife humors me, but doesn't understand the addition in the least. What can I say? I'm a freak. :) Glad to know that I'm not alone though. lol.

Elfy said...

Our books (I and my wife's) are like trophies in a way. That's why we turned one of the rooms in our house into a library. We both love the feel of books and we frequently browse book stores looking for more to add to our collections.
However I can see advantages to e-readers. One is that they save space, another is that if you want to refer to a book to clarify a point or just to read a favoured passage you've got it right there with you. Books are fast to download and here in Australia at least they cost less.
I think there are plenty of pros and cons and while e-readers will get some share of the market in the future I don't think they'll ever replace books.

The Evil Hat/Nat said...

Gav: It's not that the packaging is more important than the content, but why does it have to be an either or? If forced to chose between ereaders and no readers I would obviously chose ereaders, but that doesn't mean that I can't still prefer the extra tidbit of pleasure conferred by holding the book in my hand.

Of course, my collection's reached its own problems. I only have one book shelf (pathetic, I know), and I've been figuring out a place to put another. I figured out a few days ago, though, that the sheer volume of books on my couch will fill the second shelf the instant I get it. How do you guys manage to store all of your collections? (Keep in mind that 85% of the books I'm trying to store where bought in the past two years.)

Terry said...

Hi James, One of my wishes is that publishing companies would give the ebook copies of books away with the purchase of a hardcover. I think ebooks are a really cool idea, but I am loath to break down and buy my books in this format for the reasons you stated in your post. They could sell them as part of a special edition hardcover for a couple extra dollars even. It will probably never happen, which is why it is one of my wishes. I love your blog!

PhilW said...

I think this is a really interesting discussion and I'm likening it to the Vinyl/CD/MP3 debate.

I love the physical, tactile nature of reading a book and, myself, even prefer a nice heavy hardback.
Similarly I love vinyl and have just realised after reading the other comments, that it's because I love holding, looking, feeling the nice large covers whilst listening to the content (which is king).

Terry's idea of the e-format to be given with the book is great and I love the fact that new vinyl copies often come with a CD or a download code for an MP3 version.

The best of both worlds.

Anonymous said...

Trophy is the perfect word. There's definitely some sort of emotion resonance between me and the read book. Perhaps it's spending so long with the book - I mean, you carry it around with you, hold it for hours, snuggle down in bed with it ... and especially if you've developed a bond with the characters.

I find it very hard to part with books, and although I've had a few culls over the years, there's very few books which I haven't missed when they're gone.

Strangely though, I really dislike hardback books. They're too heavy, the corners dig in, I'm always worried about tearing the dustjacket. Give me a nice soft, worn and well-loved paperback any day!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I have books everywhere in my flat (except the bathroom) and I begin to get problems juggling the amount of new books to those I'm willing to give away. But an ereader will NOT enter this household.

Fortunatley I know a carpenter who makes me shelves fitting in whatever odd corner - above the doors is a good spot, fe. :)

Mr Man said...

I love owning books. Having them on my shelves to display and to give me an idea of what to read when I'm stumped. I still buy the physical copies all the time, but I absolutely love my sony eReader. I can't really fit hardbacks in my shoulder sachel that I carry my laptop to workin every day, and paper backs don't fit in that nicely either. So my eReader has been a blessing for that. Plus I love having a ton of books at hand for when I get bogged down with a long book, or when I want to try the beginning of a few new novels before I settle into which I'd like to read next. Also, it is kind of hard to read a hardback by the pool, which is the highlight of my summers. Nothing however will ever replace my love of going to the bookstore to browse through the shelves. Especially since I recently got back into fantasy after years of reading only sci-fi novels. Your blog has been a blessing for that as well, because I only knew of a few authors who's hardbacks I had seen consistently on the shelves for years, such as George RR Martin and Robert Jordan. I've moved a lot over the years as a uni student and now a PhD student, so the ever growing amount of novels has never been fun to move. Yet the feeling of reorganizing my library of books is something that digital formats can never replace.

Anonymous said...

I don't go as far as picking random books off a shelf just hold them, but I do like to just watch my bookshelf now and then and at those moments I feel really proud for some of the titles I've got.

And me too has a problem with those reader-devices. Never actually used one, but I've read some books from my computer screen and it's just not as enjoyable as reading an actual physical copy

Anonymous said...

I live in a small flat but there were at least two shelves of books I'd already read that I just *had* to bring with me when I moved here... These days when I finish reading a new book I have to debate with myself whether to keep it at home or add it to the stack I have to store at my parents' place until I can afford somewhere big enough to hold them all! :)

Jebus said...

I'm the same. I love the physical feel of a book and as soon as they get delivered I open them up and fan the pages in front of my face and smell them. I even like the smell of an old book from a second hand book store.

People always ask me why I don't just use a library and they just don't get my vague explanations of "I just have to _have_ the book, I can't just borrow it!"

Anonymous said...

I think from a practical perspective it only makes sense that a buyer of either a physical or a digital book would be given one copy of both. So that you could read the book in whatever form is most comfortable in your current situation. I realize however that this is quite utopian from a economic perspective.

Noel said...

Oh, yes, I can definitely relate to the idea of the book as a trophy of my reading accomplishments. At one time, I gave serious thought to going out and purchasing copies of every book that I've ever read but still didn't own. I almost did it, too.

Lately, I've come to the realization that I have to let go of some books simply because I no longer have the space to keep them all, and it really bothers me to let them go. Any of them. Even the ones I didn't like. My rationale for this, when trying to explain it to a friend, was that anyone looking at my bookshelf would be able to see me in my collection. It's a reflection of who I am and what I like, and even what I don't like at all, and getting rid of even one title is like obscuring the mirror in some way. Even when *I* go back to my collection and stand there, looking at the books, I sometimes feel like I rediscover something about myself, or else certain books will bring back specific memories that I had forgotten.

Oh, books...I love them. <3

Ishtar said...

I love looking at my books. Just looking at them comforts me and lifts my mood.

I don't have enough bookshelves so as a temporary solution, some of the overflow goes into wicker baskets (that I organise according to author or genre) and the rest are lined up on the floor. My plan is to convert my spare room into a library/entertainment room.

I like the feel and smell of books, both old and new. One of my favourite places is a charity bookshop that has thousands of musty old books, stacked on old wooden bookshelves, on trestle tables and in piles on the floor. Going there is like stepping into another world.