Hard or Soft?

4 02 2010

I was tempted to give this post the title ‘Book Porn: Hard or Soft?’ but realized it might invite some search engine hits I didn’t want. But that’s what this post is about—book porn. Not pornographic, XXX adult material in book form, but the obsession, at turns vulgar or ecstatic, with books. In my case, used fiction and non-fiction books written by some of my favorite writers. I buy used because it’s cheaper, it’s eco-friendly, and because it allows me to get cool old versions of classic books that may no longer be in print or only available new in janky paperback format.

Which brings me to the hard and soft dilemma—until recently, I was not someone that could justify the cost of a new (or even used, for that matter) hardcover book. I think when I bought Toni Morrison’s latest novel, A Mercy, last year that that was the first time I’d bought a new hardcover novel in years. My logic was that the words were the same, and I wasn’t starting a fancy temperature-controlled private library of rare first editions or anything, so what did it matter? Having access to as much literature as I could in and of itself was the reward.

So I find it ironic that lately as I’ve been combing used bookstore shelves for old (preferably early edition) printings of James Baldwin’s books, that I find myself only considering hardbacks. This is probably due to the fact that I had been reaading a very old, worn, handed-down-from-a-friend early printing of Baldwin’s Another Country, a paperback. And the thing was literally falling apart in my bag. It’s yellowed pages were breaking into tiny crumb-like pieces in my purse, littering the bottom of it like an ancient disintegrating document. So I decided to buy another copy. The only copies I could find at several bookstores, new or used, were paperbacks, with covers that weren’t that interesting (my husband being a graphic designer has definitely affected me), and I kept flashing back to the falling-apart old paperback. So I decided I’d only buy a copy if it was a hardcover. Unfortunately, the only hardcovers I can find are online, so have to wait awhile to get my copy.

But now I find that when I’m looking for other used books, I’ve been putting paperbacks back on the shelf, telling myself that I should wait for a hardcover version. What do you think? Does quality trump quantity when it comes to books? Is it worth it to shell out more for a used (and preferably early edition) hard cover? Or does it really matter? Hard or soft—what’s your call?

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