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Breaking up with books is hard to do

30 November 2013

From The Guardian:

Too many books: they have to be culled. It’s a cry that echoes through my house every few months, usually when a stalagmite of them topples on somebody’s toe. The last cull involved packing my daughter’s childhood into eight boxes – a melancholy task, cheered only by the willingness of her old primary school to take them, sight unseen, for the Christmas fair. This time, more drastic action was needed. Instead of riffling through the piles on the floor, I decided to work from the top.

Up on the most inaccessible shelf, where the cobwebs join ceiling to wall, was nearly three foot of reclaimable space, aka the collected works of Charles Dickens.

. . . .

So what is the value of the 16-volume edition that somehow found its musty way to me from my grandparents’ flat many years ago? These are books that aspire to be furniture: published in the early 1930s by Hazell, Watson and Viney, they’re the colour of polished mahogany with gilded curlicues that might grace the chambers of the lawyers pursuing Jarndyce v Jarndyce. It’s nice to see the original illustrations, but the text itself is too cramped and faded to be easily readable. These volumes have the lurky-murky smell of books that have lurked too long in the murkier depths of secondhand bookshops.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Books in General

12 Comments to “Breaking up with books is hard to do”

  1. Nice Dickensian legal reference…

  2. No way would I get rid of my Dickens volumes. Nothing much better has been produced, either as to content or to illustrations, in later years.

    We need some respect for the books of the past!

    • My mum left me her whole collection of Dickens volumes – as well as her love of Dickens They’re beautiful. There are some I haven’t yet read, but many of them I know and reread from time to time. Nicholas Nickleby is possibly my favourite literary hero of all time. But it’s coming round for ‘A Christmas Carol’ time of year again. The book is calling to me like an old friend. ‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge. A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.’ I love my eBooks, but these would be the very last volumes I would ever get rid of!

    • But what does that mean? Can’t you respect a book in its digital form just as much as if it were a book of vellum written by hand? We aren’t respecting the paper and ink, but the ideas and meaning contained in the symbols we call letters, right?

  3. I’m fully e-book. I doubt I’ll ever read another print book. And I got rid of literally bags and bags and bags and bags of print books – taken to the local book exchange.

    But I still have one small shelf of books that I will never give up. Gifts with inscriptions and well-read books from my childhood. Close to my heart and irreplaceable.

    • I’d find it difficult to part with a shelf full of leather-bound Dickens myself, but that would be far more for the aesthetics than the reading experience.

      The other day I went by the local Little Free Library and brought home a (gasp!) physical book. I sat down to read it and discovered that not only did I have to shine a light on it to be able to read it at all, but I couldn’t adjust the type size, line spacing, etc. to make it easier to read. It was also printed on rather pulpy paper in a not-all-that-readable typeface. That object of so many people’s romantic regrets about the death of literary culture had become a blinkin’ albatross around my neck. In not quite three years of reading almost entirely on one Kindle or another, I was entirely spoiled for what some folks (not I) might call “real books.”

      • I still read the odd shelfie (my personal word for a point book i.e. meant to sit on a shelf and look pretty/gather dust). But, like you, I find them rather awkward now. The book wants to shut itself, especially near the beginning and end. The paper dries the natural skin oils on my hands. I used to ignore those things, but I find that difficult, now that I have used ereaders.

  4. These are books that aspire to be furniture:

    Digital for the stories, print for the decor.

    Like others have commented, I, too, have a shelf full of books that are personally precious to me–inscribed, or received as gifts.

    They stay on the shelf. Even when I want to read those stories, I go to my Kindle or iPad.

  5. “These are books that aspire to be furniture”

    This is what booksellers aside from Amazon don’t seem to have grasped. They are becoming furniture stores. You don’t run a successful furniture store by squeezing prices as low as possible. You offer something beautiful at a price that earns you a good return, and you don’t expect your store to be slammed full of customers at all hours. Paper will not much longer be able to compete with digital for sales of the latest and greatest, but they can offer something precious for the older favorites.

  6. I work on a computer all day every day. Frankly, I prefer a print book to take to bed with me.

  7. I could gladly part with a shelf full of leather bound Dickens, but that’s because I really hate Dickens. Ask me to part with my shelf full of Tolkien and I’ll ask you to leave.

  8. Electronic for fun, frivolous, or so out-of-print that I can’t afford even the used volumes. But I still prefer dead-tree, even though I do have to weed every few years. (And there’s the page number problem for citations . . .) And there are the “untouchables,” the kids books I loved almost to death, and a few others that I lug from place to place.

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