tobyaw: (Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby)
posted by [personal profile] tobyaw at 11:16pm on 07/11/2012 under , , , ,
Many years ago, I thought that books were things to acquire, and never to dispose of. I bought books that I wanted to read, books that I thought I might like to read, and books I thought might be useful, and my library grew and grew. I read a lot, but bought more books that I could catch up with.

Then it slowly dawned on me that my interest in books should not be focused on the size of my library, but rather on the joy I had in reading books. And that joy was as much to do with the physical form of the book as with the contents of the book. I bought hardbacks because I liked the way that they felt in my hands and the way that they looked on my shelves. I learned to appreciate typography (initially fuelled by reading and rereading Knuth’s book on TeX), and grew dismissive of people who were willing to read mass-market paperbacks, with their poor design, shoddy bindings, nasty paper, and narrow margins.

I started to buy Folio Society books (some by subscription, and more from eBay); a lot of fiction (which I devoured) and non-fiction (which mostly sits of my shelves unread). I must stop buying non-fiction.

But then ebooks hit me, just a couple of years ago. I realised that I could buy books from Apple’s iBookstore (and occasionally from Amazon’s Kindle web site), and that I could read them quite happily on my iPhone screen (and latterly on my iPad).

Just as the old quote says that the best camera is the one that’s with you, the same applies to books. My iPhone is with me almost all the time, and my iPad is with me much of the time, so I always have books available to read, and it is now much easier to fill a quiet moment with a book than it ever was when I was reading hardbacks. Although I wish they could do more to improve the on-screen typography.

In the past couple of years I’ve gone from looking at my bookshelves as a rich resource of future pleasure, to seeing them as an archaic and dusty collection of dead trees. Apart from a few specific volumes, I no longer find the same thrill in the physical form of books.

I doubt I’ll buy many physical books in the future, except, perhaps, as presents, or to complete existing collections.

(By the way, it is clear to me that hardback fiction should be shelved without dust covers or slip cases, sorted alphabetically by author, and chronologically within each author, with the exception that specific series of books may be shelved together. Anything else would just be wrong.)
location: St Andrews, Scotland

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