As you might be aware, Levi has been running a series, Does Literary Fiction Suffer from Dysfunctional Pricing? I’ve been reading along with and learning from it as it’s been happening, but today I wanted to write something that isn’t about the price of books, but is still related to the topic. I wanted to write about why I think paperbacks are better from a reader’s perspective.
Now, I am a reader. I have been a reader all of my life. Before I could read, I was read to, and when I figured it out for myself I took off into that world of words and never looked back. These days, my reading habits are a little haphazard: I’ll either be reading a couple of books at a time or I’ll read nothing but magazines and blogs for a few months, but either way, I’m always reading something. And I love books. Sure, I love them for the ideas and the stories and the wordplay and the things they give me to think about long after I’ve finished them, but I love them on another level too, one that is purely physical, tactile. I love the way books feel in my hands. The sound of turning pages. The way they smell. The way they look: letting my focus go soft and seeing them as a blur of text on a page, how they become abstract shapes, dots and lines.
So, I love books. But the kind of books I love, overwhelmingly, come in paperback form. Here, have a look at a very small part of my personal (quite disorganized) library:
(An aside: I worked at a public library briefly while I was in college and spent hours shelving books, or — and this was the real torture — standing and reading the Dewey Decimal Numbers on the spines, making sure that all the books were in the exact right order on the shelves, and rearranging them if necessary. Since then, I’ve never put my own books in any kind of order, maybe as some misguided form of rebellion. It’s okay, I can find what I’m looking for. Usually.)
I do own a few hardcover books. Three, to be exact (Danger on Peaks by Gary Snyder — a review copy I received in the mail, Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — I shelled out for this one because I really wanted to read it right then, and A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov — It was highly recommended to me and I couldn’t find a paperback copy, but I never finished it because I think I have a mental block when it comes to Russian literature). But other than those, the rest of the books I own are paperbacks. Because I like them better. Here are my top five reasons why:
1. Paperbacks are easier to carry.
On average, paperbacks are lighter than hardcovers. They are easy to shove into my purse and take with me. I have known a few clunky paperbacks in my time (House of Leaves wasn’t really the lightest book to haul around) but in general, they’re pretty portable, and portability is important factor in entertainment — just as I’d rather carry my iPod than a boombox, so do I prefer carrying paperback books.
2. Paperbacks don’t have dust jackets.
Even while I’m reading a book, I like to go back and look at the cover. One might say that I’m an obsessive cover reader. I like to read all the little blurbs and quotes and information about the author. On a paperback, this is typically on the back cover (and perhaps also the last page or so), but with a hardcover, it’s all on the dust jacket. I hate dust jackets. Stupid damn dust jackets. They’re always in the way, sliding off, getting fingerprinty or torn, and it irritates me. Yes, I could remove them, but I already told you I was an obsessive cover reader, so that option doesn’t really work for me. I know that in the grand scheme of things in the world to get irritated about, dust jackets shouldn’t rate that high, but reading is supposed to be a pleasure, and, for me, dust jackets remove a great deal of the simple pleasure of curling up with a book. I hate them. With paperbacks, this isn’t a problem.
3. Paperbacks are easy to curl up with.
Maybe I don’t do all of my reading there, but I’d say that I do at least 95% of my reading in bed. Paperbacks are more curl-up-able. And if I can’t curl up with a book in bed for an hour or so before going to sleep, where the hell am I supposed to read? Sitting up at a table? Bah, I say. Bah!
4. As time marches on, paperbacks end up smelling less weird than hardcovers.
Like I wrote above, I used to work at a library, so I know all about that weird smell that old books get. That moldy dusty book smell that isn’t like any other smell in the world. It’s not necessarily a horrible smell, but it is weird. And yeah, paperbacks get an old book smell too, but it’s somehow not quite as extreme as it is with hardcovers. I don’t get it either, but it’s true.
5. Paperbacks are friendlier.
I know that seems like a stupid statement, but think about it for a minute. Hardcover books are serious. They’re heavy. They’re permanent. They are archive copies forever and ever amen. But paperbacks are casual. You can pick them up, you can toss them in your backpack before you go away for the weekend, you can fold the cover over so that you won’t have to explain the plot of what you’re reading to that nosy-ass lady sitting next to you in the waiting room at the doctor’s office — you don’t feel like talking because you’re not feeling well (that’s why you’re in the doctor’s office, after all) so just leave me alone, lady! Leave me alone! Ahem. Sorry, I think I got a little carried away there. But my point is that there’s something more immediate and accessible about paperbacks. And shouldn’t books be immediate and accessible? Yes. They should. Who could possibly disagree with that? (I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s someone.)