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Books as objects
Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby
Many years ago, I thought that books were things to acquire, and never to dispose of. I bought books that I wanted to read, books that I thought I might like to read, and books I thought might be useful, and my library grew and grew. I read a lot, but bought more books that I could catch up with.

Then it slowly dawned on me that my interest in books should not be focused on the size of my library, but rather on the joy I had in reading books. And that joy was as much to do with the physical form of the book as with the contents of the book. I bought hardbacks because I liked the way that they felt in my hands and the way that they looked on my shelves. I learned to appreciate typography (initially fuelled by reading and rereading Knuth’s book on TeX), and grew dismissive of people who were willing to read mass-market paperbacks, with their poor design, shoddy bindings, nasty paper, and narrow margins.

I started to buy Folio Society books (some by subscription, and more from eBay); a lot of fiction (which I devoured) and non-fiction (which mostly sits of my shelves unread). I must stop buying non-fiction.

But then ebooks hit me, just a couple of years ago. I realised that I could buy books from Apple’s iBookstore (and occasionally from Amazon’s Kindle web site), and that I could read them quite happily on my iPhone screen (and latterly on my iPad).

Just as the old quote says that the best camera is the one that’s with you, the same applies to books. My iPhone is with me almost all the time, and my iPad is with me much of the time, so I always have books available to read, and it is now much easier to fill a quiet moment with a book than it ever was when I was reading hardbacks. Although I wish they could do more to improve the on-screen typography.

In the past couple of years I’ve gone from looking at my bookshelves as a rich resource of future pleasure, to seeing them as an archaic and dusty collection of dead trees. Apart from a few specific volumes, I no longer find the same thrill in the physical form of books.

I doubt I’ll buy many physical books in the future, except, perhaps, as presents, or to complete existing collections.

(By the way, it is clear to me that hardback fiction should be shelved without dust covers or slip cases, sorted alphabetically by author, and chronologically within each author, with the exception that specific series of books may be shelved together. Anything else would just be wrong.)

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(Deleted comment)
I don’t see that there necessarily need be a conflict between print and ebooks; they serve different purposes, and can be used in different ways. But I think it is pretty clear that the mass market of fiction sales will head towards ebooks, if only because of the twin pros of convenience and environmental impact. Manufacturing, shipping, storing, and destroying physical books at the cheap end of the market must be unsustainable.

For libraries, for reference, and for lending, I can see a role for hardbacks. Indeed, I question whether ebooks are really a practical concept for lending libraries — the current implementations look pretty shoddy, and I imagine that the level of DRM required will continue to be irksome. I hope libraries don’t waste a lot of their limited resources chasing ebook lending.

Where I see a big value in ebooks is in conservation, and providing access to rare texts.

And while I’m sure that the book you recommend is interesting, I refuse to look further, based on my track record of buying non-fiction that I never get around to reading!

I'm very impressed by this posting and by vivdunstan's comment ...

... I haven't shifted to ebooks (yet) but at the same time, I have moved away from reading printed books ... I used to read at least one a week, sometimes one a day ... and now I'm reading probably closer to one a month (I'm still reading a lot, but it's mostly online ... a combination of social media, news sites, blogs and other output) ...

... and I too have a large paper library which I look at and wonder how many of those books will ever be opened again ...

... oh, and my hardback fiction is shelved *with* dust jackets and slipcases, in alphabetical order by author, and then alphabetical by title, unless they are part of a series, then they are sequential (based on story order) and the series is placed alphabetically. The same as for my paperbacks ... with a few exceptions (all Star Trek books are together, all Lensman books are together. Star Trek (and Star Wars, and Space 1999) are shelved under "S" not under their authors ... and all mixed author collections are together in alphabetical order by *title* not by editor.

At least they will be once I can get the shelves unscrambled after my last house move ...

I found I started reading more when I moved to ebooks, although I often have to make a conscious effort to look at fiction rather than the blogs and web pages that would otherwise grab my attention.

Yup, I'm much the same. I have a lot of books, but since I got a Kobo I don't ever take them off the shelves, which has meant that after a while they start feeling like a thing I carry around rather than treasured items. I suspect that next time I move a lot of them will go.

The sad thing is that the value of books appears to have plummeted — it looks like everyone is experiencing a similar epiphany about ebooks — so it is quite hard to sell hardbacks on.

Hopefully that will help me add to my collection of dead trees... I'm envisaging a future where I don't travel round so much and therefore hardcover books - including a fair few from the Folio Society will get read.

I think there is a danger that hardback books might go the same way as vinyl; something that drops out of the mainstream and that ones finds increasingly rarely in charity shops, with occasional high-end editions for a collectors' market.

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