Monday, November 7, 2011

More on Books as Objects

I’m delighted by the reception of my last Blog post, “Some Thoughts about Books as Objects.”  And surprised. 

Bookstores are closing wherever we look, yet there are book sites galore online; book clubs are flourishing, and people apparently still have strong opinions about books and how to treat them.

This post got the attention of many online book sites (two of which I am now enjoying regularly and will tell you about).  The one called Shelf Awareness has two newsletters, one for readers and one for people in the book trade.  On November 2nd, they had an excerpt of my post in their “Quotation of the Day” section.  Not surprisingly, the excerpt they used was of the very few things I said which referred to new books as objects.

Another enjoyable site but one which is not exclusively about new books, Beattie’s Book Blog, the “unofficial homepage of the New Zealand book community” (which I enjoy because many of the books they discuss are not available in the USA) also excerpted my post, but here, the interest seemed to be more about the difference in “feel” between a real book and an eBook.

And my guest blogger, Pamela Grath, referred to my post in her blog, Books in Northport, adding to the conversation there, as follows:
“My friend Helen at the books, books, books blog wrote recently about books as objects, her point being that there is more to a book than text. I’m sure Helen would not disagree that for those of us who love books, many various aspects—physical, literary, aesthetic and incidental—go into the object we love, and I bring this up because Helen originally wrote of old books, and then she and I and other readers subsequently made the segue, in the comments section following her post, into a discussion of new books as objects and what various people still find valuable in bound, printed volumes."
Later, she made a post of her own called “More on Books as Objects – and One Important Book on the Subject” that I think you will enjoy reading.

On the whole, the people who wrote to me were very positive about the future of books as “objects” in addition to their importance in providing information and pleasure. 

You can read the comments at the end of my post to see some animated and thoughtful opinions about the value of “real” books.  One of the people who commented is someone who publishes books “in all forms – electronic and paper,” but nevertheless, says that she always publishes “limited handbound copies of all [our] books, because books are magical….”

But not everyone agrees.  One person wrote to protest that the printing of books causes the killing of trees, while eBooks help save them.  That’s an interesting point – and would have been posted, had not the sentiment been expressed in some very unsavory language! – and is, perhaps, a topic that can start an entirely new discussion among readers.

The care and treatment of books is another aspect that stimulated a great deal of conversation. Opinions ranged from the extreme of thinking that books should remain pristine and not be marked in any way, to the other extreme of thinking that every inch of a book should be annotated. 

I’m a proponent of the latter: I believe that annotating a book – making it “yours” – is a gift both to yourself and to the book.  I believe that it enriches the reading experience even for those who come to read the book after you.  I know that notations in used books have called my attention to aspects of that book which I might otherwise not have noticed; have given me new insights, shown me other possible interpretations. 

Of course, collectible books of great monetary value are a different matter entirely.  With these, annotating-readers like me have a “hands-off” policy when it comes to annotating or even signing or pasting in a bookplate.  Here, you want marks only by people who have some collectible “value” of their own:  the author, an “important” previous owner, a Melville or other credible person whose opinion illuminates the work in new ways, and the like.   

Imagine if there were such a thing as Shakespeare’s annotated copy of Chaucer – or of Petrarch, from whom Shakespeare took many of his tales.  I would definitely not put my mark on a book like that!

So the questions:

Printed books versus Electronic books;
Writing in books or leaving the pages pristine;

What do you think?



P. J. Grath said...

A few thoughts off the top of my head about trees, paper and books: We think of forests as renewable resources, and it’s true that trees can be replanted, but it’s also true that they get used up faster they they grow. But, on the other hand, the trees usually harvested and replanted to make paper are not forests but monoculture plantations. We don’t want to lose our true forests. I see in your picture, Helen, a variety of tree species and am sure a variety of other flora and fauna are found beneath the canopy. But it doesn’t make much sense to try to protect monoculture tree plantations. That would be like protecting fields of corn and soybeans. They are planted to be harvested and used.

Peter said...

My wife and I once went to the library of Trinity College, Dublin, Eire. Normally a fairly cavalier type of tourist, I virtually tiptoed through the place. The history of the books there was like thousands of distant voices murmuring from their time and place to us here. No, you wouldn't find me marking one of those.