This Hurts My Soul

So, I came across this New York Times article, Selling a Book by Its Cover, via SF Signal.  Feel free to go and read it for context, but I’ll summarize the key things that impacted me as I go along.

My first thought as I began reading was, “Cool!”  I was delighted to know that it’s easy to find a vellum-bound set of the works of Goethe in the original German.  I mean, I can’t read German—but I could learn.  And I know people who could read it.  I would totally love to have such works in my library.  (I’d probably want English translations, too, but I’m a sort of completist that way.)

Now, I should perhaps explain that I’m a big fan of books as artifacts.  I own over a thousand books, and one day I hope to read them all, and more besides.  My favourites—as physical artifacts—are the pretty ones, the durable ones, the impressive-looking ones.  I like the notion of books that last, the idea that a hundred years from now, or five hundred, the books on my shelves might still exist, sending their content forward through time for others to discover and read.  Hence my preference for the hardcovers and acid free paper over the yellowing paperbacks that may not survive my own lifetime, much less any thereafter.

This is not meant to imply that I am a Luddite when it comes to the e-book revolution.  I  haven’t quite jumped on that bandwagon yet, mostly because the readers aren’t quite good enough to do what I think they should.  I actually hope that e-books become the new and cheaper mass market, and that printed books become higher quality—that way, I can read the e-book, and if the book impresses me a lot, I’ll by the artifact to grace my shelves.  (I would hope this would lead to more reading and less shelving in my life, but I have my doubts because I do like the pretties.)

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that I have a lot of respect for well-made printed books, and I think they are something that should be preserved.  And so it was that when I got to the part in the article when they started talking about books as set dressings, it hurt my soul.  It was especially cringe-inducing to read about books being mutilated so they could fit on shallow shelves as spines-only, or being completely rebuilt into artwork (“Making trees from books”).

Rationally, I know this is silly—there are lots of books out there that are no good to anyone, and if they aren’t used for these sorts of things, they’d probably end up trashed.  It still hurts to hear about used bookstores selling stock into destruction however.

Egad.  Maybe I should have been a librarian or archivist.