I recently stumbled across an interesting article in the New York Times. I’ve lately been interested in the ongoing print vs. electronic debate in the book world, and this article offered an interesting answer to the question:
One line in particular stuck out. “If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading.” There are pictures in the article of books with beautiful, embossed covers, gilded pages, tasseled bookmarks. It’s true that many of these features might make a book a beautiful addition to your shelf or coffee table. However, for now at least, it doesn’t seem that many people take their decorator to the bookstore and pick up the latest Stephen King because their den needs some more color. It seems to me that the pleasures of owning are intertwined with the pleasures of reading.
Working on a paper the other night, I found myself on the floor of the library, going through volume after volume of the beautiful 1903 Library Edition of the Works of Ruskin, and I have to say that the deckled edges and thick, high quality paper made the experience infinitely more enjoyable. I know the same thing goes for my books at home. My “pleasures of owning” don’t come from the books’ physical beauty, but more from the way their appearance correlates with my memory of reading them. I have a beautiful edition of Pride & Prejudice and I admit I liked it better than my dog-eared paper back. I like it better not just because it looks nicer on the shelf, but because the sky blue cloth cover covered in burnt red curling script makes me feel a little more Jane Austenian, a little more Lizzie Bennet curled up in a tree, when I read it.
You’ll note that the picture at the very top of the page shows Jay-Z signing his intricate memoir. Not having read Decoded I can’t comment on it or how it compares to the rest of the celebrity memoir wave, but it is interesting to see how gorgeous editions are no longer reserved for the classics. I only hope that publishers are realizing that while we can judge books, and maybe buy them, by their covers, content will never cease to be important.