Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hardback? Paperback? Do We Care?

The publishers Picador have somehow managed to make a story out of the fact that they are now publishing simultaneously in hardback and paperback (as they have been for years - it's just that they've now made it permanent and universal, and the hardback print runs will be very small). Stories like this always arouse a certain amount of tepid bookish passion, especially in serious book collectors (to whom a book read is a book ruined). For such as them, the potential loss of the hardcover - with pristine dust jacket, of course - is a chilling prospect. For the rest of us... Well, isn't the important thing how well a book is produced, regardless of whether it's hard- or paper-bound? The quality of design, printing and binding can be extremely low in hardbacks and extremely high in paperbacks. At the moment, for example, I have at my bedside (appropriately) the Bedside Book of Birds, edited by Graeme Gibson. This is in paperback, but it is quite beautifully designed, produced - and bound - and the hardback edition adds nothing except weight. (It also contains a superb collection of writings, often from unexpected and obscure sources - and magnificent illustrations, mostly from old prints. A beautiful book -and it ends beautifully, with this.) Oddly, I actually found it in the most unexpected place - a Waterstone's bookshop. But that's another story...


  1. Apropos almost nothing, I seem to remember Sassoon (in his 'Mad Jack' role) being found, after single-handedly charging a machine-gun post armed with a pistol and a pocket full of grenades, sitting reading a book of poetry - fair condition only, no jacket, cover stained one imagines.

    Also, this poem - about the end of The War to end Wars, of course and therefore a poem of hope contains :

    O, but Everyone
    Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will
    never be done.

    strikingly similar in its imagery to Emily Dickinson's 'Hope'

    .. the thing with feathers,
    That perches in the soul
    And sings the tune--without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    (Though more lyrical, of course ...)



  2. Once upon a time, when the world was young, before i was beaten down by Fate and became Elberry, i used to fantasize about getting my novel published, and hoped they wouldn't totally f*ck it up.

    Now i've gone mad and decided that if a publisher approached me on her hands and knees, begging to publish my questionable works, i would agree only on the condition that it be neither hardback nor paperback but instead chiselled onto menhirs in Futhark runes by Ensio Kataja.

    Each menhir would be quite expensive and, needless to say, would take up quite a bit of shelf room.

  3. Thanks for that, Pete - I hadn't noticed the resemblance before.
    And Elberry I'm sure you're on the right track there...

  4. Books, hard or paperback are doomed, doomed I say.
    In the darkened drawing room of an old country house near Weimar, sat at his desk was a venerable old gentleman. For some time he had been contemplating the collection of black objects and 3.65 kilometers of interconnects that sat on his desktop.
    Frau Goethe entered the room, bringing candles, and introducing the young man who stood beside her.
    "Herr Goethe, may I introduce Herr Speidel, he says he is from your publisher".
    Goethe contemplated the young man, the keys to his bottom of the range three series dangling from his belt.
    "Guten abend, Herr Speidel", said Goethe. "Guten abend, Herr Goethe, I understand the publisher has written to you regarding my getting you up to speed with e book technology, and I see that the hardware has arrived"
    "Yes" said Goethe, "I believe you are an IT manager, please be seated and explain to me what that is".
    "Well", said Herr Speidel," removing his Paul Smith jacket (TK Max, 32 thalers) and sitting down, "I make sure that the staff are all working to the latest version of MS word."
    "That must tax his brain," thought Goethe."
    After some two hours of discussion, hardware assembly and connection, Herr Goethe said "well, I think that I understand the subject fairly well now Herr Speidel, I will not delay you any further."
    Herr Speidel put on his jacket and departed.
    "Fuck that for a lark", thought Goethe, "MS Vista, in their dreams", and reaching into the desk draw for the Ubuntu installation disk.
    Some time later Frau Goethe entered the room followed by Herr Eckermann. "Sit down Johann, I am afraid I have some bad news."

  5. “...serious book collectors (to whom a book read is a book ruined)”.

    I am perfectly of your opinion, Nige, concerning bibliophilia and the proprieties of book collecting.

    What I take exception to, is that a book is a dead piece of parchment. To me a book is a living entity. I read it, I talk to it, I sniff it, I imbibe it, I return to it (up to a hundred times), recite paragraphs aloud, and - by way of increasing and reducing the tension like a lover delaying a climax - may even kiss and caress it.

    If a book doesn’t look used, it has no life for me.

    Bertrand Russell prided himself in reading up to six books a week. And to hear an alleged erudite and man of letters utter such a sample of mingled pedantry and affectation, has left an indelible horror on my mind. It is altogether unlikely that he cared nearly as much about bringing a woman to orgasm as he did about delivering rhetorical exclamations...

    I don’t read books, I make love to them...!


    PS.: off you go now, Nige, have a cold shower...

  6. Didja know that Graeme Gibson is marries to Margaret Atwood?



  7. Most books simply aren't worth owning in hardcover. For most books, one read and then its sent off to Bookins for some other person to read. In this case, paperbacks are much easier to carry around in your coat pocket.

  8. It's either a cold shower, Selena, or I'll have to write a book...
    Malty - brilliant!
    And Anonymous, I did know that (from the liner notes) and am trying not to hold it against him.

  9. Doomed, doomed I say, part two.
    This blog has me wearing my remembering head with increasing frequency.

    A thought provoking read about the effects of computerisation upon the culture of reading is Sven Birkerts The Gutenburg Elegies. Although written some years ago, still relevant today, more so now that legions of plebs out there will be reading from that twelve inch square IPod.
    Not I, i'm sticking to page flicking.
    Soulima (I do like her dads music, don't you?) is partly right, nearly every household in our locale has the Waverly novels on their shelves, unread.
    Tell them that Donizetti wrote an opera based on one of them receives blank stares.

  10. I write in my books as I read 'em, 'cause almost always I am reviewing them or teaching from them. Feel guilty about doing that to a hardback.

    Also, I'm getting better and better about giving away books. We've purged our many thousands by about 60% in recent years. I even sold a leather-bound, complete set of Hardy. You can't believe how many novels the guy wrote, though of the six or so I've read, I only really liked "Jude the Obscure" and "The Mayor of Casterbridge." Or was that called "Far from the Madding Crowd"? Well, I guess I liked that too, though obviously I can't now remember it!

    I recently read Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" (good, creepy sci-fi -- apocalypse caused by drug companies) and, as usual, she cites Gibson as her great support. But, do tell, what does he write? I've never heard of him other than in the acknowledgments to all of her books.

  11. Susan, he seems to have written about four novels, then given up, according to Wikipedia. A lifelong bird fancier though!

  12. The Gibson bird book is wonderful indeed, I picked up, (from an Amazon seller), a signed hardback of this beautiful tome for very little a few weeks back. Glad you mentioned it as it's a lovely production all round.