Wandering around bookshops at the moment, I am reminded that ’tis the season of hardbacks. Horrible things. Can’t be doing with them.
This is definitely a subject on which Mr Woodsmoke and I disagree. He thinks that hardbacks are lovely things. He will carefully remove the dust jacket and put it in a safe place, and then carefully read the book so that it ends up looking exactly the same as when he started, although with the pages feeling very slightly less crisp.
I, on the other hand, when faced with a hardback will… moan, whine, complain that I can’t read it on my side in bed because it’s too fat, complain that I can’t read it on my back in bed because it’s too heavy, and then complain that I definitely can’t read it in the bath and read it there anyway, all the time whinging about how incredibly un-user-friendly this format is. Like broadsheet newspapers, which could only reasonably be read by spreading them out on the brown patterned carpet and taking up all the space in front of the gas fire (ah, nostalgia). Or reading them upside down while someone else did this.
I do still sometimes acquire hardbacks. In principle I don’t buy any books these days unless they are obscure enough that the whole of Fife Library Service doesn’t have them. However, in practice a book that I’m keen enough to read that I don’t want to wait for the paperback or Kindle edition probably has 35 people in the library queue in front of me. And Christmas does happen, and does sometime coincides with a new volume of Chris Mullin’s marvellous diaries, and almost always with a new Pratchett.
Still, I object to their lumbering presence on my bookshelves. They are taking up unnecessary space, but I still can’t justify buying a paperback copy and ditching the hardback. Maybe we need a swap service where people who like hardbacks but only have paperback money will downsize my hardbacks for me? I will happily take 1p Amazon copies.
The fact is, I think all books should end up more or less like this:
This is my (obviously) much-loved copy of Good Omens. It was the first book I ever bought just out of my own money, not using a book voucher or getting someone else to buy it for me. I remember reading the first chapter of someone else’s copy perched on a table in the packed-lunch area. I could still tell you exactly what desk it was and who had lent me the copy. I could tell you which bookshop I bought my copy in, and where it was in the shop. It cost me £4.99, which seemed like a lot of money when I was 14.
Since then, I have read it, oh, every year? That would be 20 times. Sounds about right. It has been lent to loads of people, some of whom abused it more than others. But it’s still totally functional. And I’m not going to worry about throwing it my bag. I just don’t, with paperbacks. I’ll still turn down the page corners on hardbacks, but I’ll feel guiltier doing it.
It is in that perfect format, the small paperback beloved of genre fiction. In my perfect world, all books would come in that size with pretty tiny type, to achieve maximum words per unit of volume.
I realise I’m being inconsistent here since I am also very fond of my Kindle, which has none of the battered, tactile, lend-to-everyone-you-know qualities of my paperback friend. The Kindle has a different purpose. For one-read-only books, it stops them taking up physical space and you don’t have to go through the periodic book cull (how do they grow when I supposedly never buy any?) And it has that marvellous hit of instant gratification. Oh, and newspapers that don’t cause the various paper mountains in the house to increase even more.
But in a land of Kindles and paperbacks, I see no cause for a hardback. Horrible things.