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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

HARDBACKS AND PAPERBACKS AND SHELVES, OH MY! A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

An author's library.
   A label attached to many a blog post. These library posts are all the same. What goes on in an author's library? The slow steady march of books. Aye, even into the digital age and beyond.
   The recent influx of 610 books, and the arrival of a big eff-off bookcase to handle the flood, raised a few questions. What to do with the volume of volumes?
   Stack, for now.
   Of the 609 books, a few are gems. One tome is already gone, headed across choppy water to feature as a prop in a photo-shoot for a book cover.
   I took possession of this year's Folio Society crop, and that small collection was in addition to the 610 books mentioned.


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One down, 609 to go. If I read a book a week, that'll take a while. I won't, though. Duplicates are inevitable. I spotted at least a dozen stories I've read.

   Trimming the list already.
   Question. With clones and copies, do I keep the duplicates or the ones I obtained earlier? There's a flip of the coin to that. A few paperback books came in that I'd considered buying. I've headed those purchases off at the pass.
   Hell, if I battered through a book a day, I'd call that three years of poring over tomes rather than two...
   Allowing for days each year when little or no reading is possible. And for books that can't be read at a single day-long night-long sitting.


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I asked questions of my library, paperback and hardback.



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The cheapest books were obtained freely. Gifts in.

   And the most expensive book? Well, I know the price of that, and it was free as well. Special offer, thrown in with a bundle.
   So what was the most expensive book I paid for? I'm pretty sure that was a gift out, and I managed that at half-price.
   There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.
   J.M. Barrie looms large over me. No, really. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, illustrated by the dread pirate Calico Jack Rackham, would fell a giant if that tome jumped from the shelves.
   The lightest book? Then you start arguing over what constitutes a book. Heaviest? Then you start arguing over what constitutes a door.
   Tallest? There are too many books on my shelves. And too many of those are over a foot tall. When the tape measures an awkward 37 cm, you know you are staring at a book it's impossible to curl up with.
   Curl under and die beneath, perhaps.


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Calico Jack was too busy a-pirating to illustrate much, so he handed painterly duties to the ship's cook - young Arthur Rackham.

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What can you tell about the writer, based on the author's library? I've written of that before. A slice of another person's library was recently transfused into my own.
   So you can't tell a damn thing about me based on another person's book choices now in my library.
   Except, perhaps, that the transfused books remain part of my library, and so, are to my taste. If you can tell them apart from the books I bought myself.
   Though I hold books on my shelves that are clearly not to my taste. Again, caution. I hold books on my shelf that I didn't buy at all.


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Oh, there were all sorts of marvels in here. Tall, short, fat, thin, young...
   The youngest books in my library are always born this year, every year. But a solid wedge of old hardbacks toppled in out of the storm...
   Giving me, to my surprise, the oldest new books in my collection. As far as I can tell, the most ancient tome on the stacks is now a volume of Milton, dating to 1881.
   Making it the oldest item in the house.
   I stared at the date in disbelief, as I wouldn't have pegged the book pre-WWII.
   Along with the other ancient hardbacks, these solid volumes carried the whiff of 1955 about them. It's a special ability handed down to most hardbacks - look as though you were produced in or around a repressed decade.
   I jest. All decades contain repression.
   But no, this book was older. I started with a volume that lied to me and said it was from 1921.
   Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? That can't be. I matched titles and publishers to years and then to photos on Google. Exact print-run named and noted. Digging further into the ancient pile, I made my way back to 1881.


*

Books down the ages.
   Paperbacks existed then.
   The railway paperback was the airport novel of its day. With the railway creeping everywhere, introduction of widespread compulsory education, and a need to be elsewhere...
   Paperback books gave you something to read on endless steam-powered train journeys.
   No airports or airport novels then. Roads, yes, but only leaky steampunk contraptions, behatted humans, and bridled horses used those.
   The modern rise in paperbacks slid into view during Auden's low dishonest decade. Rain, and war in 1939, stopped play. Post-WWII, paper was everywhere.

*


Paper. And now we're in the Digital Age.
   I prefer the durability of hardback. The best-preserved book in my collection? No single tome, for there are many many well-looked-after books here.
   And the worst-preserved? Easily a movie guide by Leonard Maltin. It lies on the floor, just behind me, in three chunks.
   This book is a sorry thing. A thick paperback made of thin paper with no more durable a spine than that of a liquidiser-fresh jellyfish.
   Unsurprisingly, the shattered tome behind me dates to the recent turn of the century. The near-dead book on my carpet replaced one earlier time-shredded volume. I didn't buy again.
   This is 2015, and Leonard sadly announced the final volume in his long-running series.
   The internet does that book's job, nowadays. Maltin's series never had a good format, in terms of survivability. An annual book wasn't meant to last.
   Not at that ever-expanding size, and certainly not in an insufferable paperback format.
   If your paperback stops bullets, it won't halt a broken spine from overuse. Or from plain old regular use.
   Maltin's team put together a great reference work. In a flimsy throwaway format. Anyway, the internet tells me about movies when I ask. Sad but true but sad.


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Solid construction. That's why I like hardbacks. Durability. Yes I'm a digital author, and yes I have a Kindle. And a Kindle app. Maybe even two, last time I checked.
   There wasn't a point to this blog post. I'm just waffling. Thinking about the nature of physical books and the physical nature of books.
   Ethereal digital books are easy to store and retrieve. But what the fuck would I put on all these shelves if I converted every single title to electrons?
   I'd need to start collecting. You can only buy so many Batman figures. I'm sure any gathering palls after the first 1,500. And that lowly figure means paring the collection down to the essentials.

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I don't feel as though I have anything to blog about. Officially, I'm off blogging weekly. If an item comes along, I'll blog. Especially if it's book-related.
   Discovery of a pile of books dating to Victorian times. That qualifies.
   Something I haven't found in more modern hardbacks? In several of these ancient Victorian tomes, I saw a page made of tracing paper near the front of the book.
   That spoke of ancient custom and great age. One day, people will uncover dust-stained Kindle reading devices and declare...
   Look what they used in days of yore, before books downloaded to the brain.
   And they'll smile, as we smile now.




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