A few months ago, I was perusing a used bookstore in my area, and saw a mass market edition for Special Topics in Calamity Physics with a cover I had never seen before. I loved it, but had already bought myself the regular trade paperback as soon as I had finished reading Pessl’s newer release, Night Film, and therefore didn’t need another copy.
Again last week, I wandered into the same store and saw the book again. This time, I had already started Special Topics, but looked longingly at the book anyway. The mass market was beat up (yellowed pages, curled cover, spine repeatedly creased) but when I picked it up, it just felt good in my hands. It opened easily, weighted less and smelled like what it was, an old, loved book. I told myself it was stupid to buy another edition of a book I already had. Especially when I had paid for the new version I was already reading.
Then, last night on my way home from work, I fidgeted my copy of Special Topics back and forth. I had hardly made a dent in the book and had a good 500 pages to go. It was a larger paperback, heavy and hard to hold as I stood on the wobbly subway. I daydreamed about the battered copy that sat stuffed in a shelf at the bookstore I had just been to. So, when I got home, because I am a crazy book obsessed person, I found a few books on my shelf that I no longer cared to keep, and walked myself over to the store. I traded my books for an even better discount on the cheap paperback, and took it home.
Before going to sleep, as I lay reading in bed, I pondered about the two editions of the book. Though I loved both covers, and the content was the same, I went out of my way for the comfort of a pre-loved mass market. I thought when I was finished, I would donate the book back and keep my pretty paperback, but now I’m not so sure.
On my way to work this morning, the book lay open in my hands, spine creased and comfortable, lighter and with that gorgeous smell of old bookstore. I felt like I made the right move, and maybe I will just donate my more pristine version for someone else to enjoy.
It’s weird how even the physical qualities of books can be comforting. I imagine the life this old mass market had before it was in that bookstore. Maybe it belonged to an elderly lady, who passed it around her circle of friends, recommending the mysterious and intelligent story with great enthusiasm. Or maybe it belonged to a college student, who chucked the beat up book in their backpack and read it on their commutes and between classes outside in the Commons areas. Who knows! But I like to think about it anyway..
I’d love to know what you guys think of the physical conditions of your books! Do you buy new, or used, or read from the library? Do you care about creased spines and curled covers, or do you prefer everything in pristine condition? Do you donate your books, or give them back to the used bookstores, or keep them in your home? Let me know!