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What do your books mean to you? Books as collectibles and representations of self

bookshelves 228x300 What do your books mean to you? Books as collectibles and representations of self

In my recent post about ebook woes, I mentioned that one of the issues facing ebooks is the fact that many readers see ebooks as not just subordinate to print books, but almost as a mere part'of a book. While ebooks theoretically contain, arguably, everything that makes a story a story, they dont necessarily contain everything that makes a book a book.

The major function of a book is that it contains something that can be read, but books go well beyond simply being a form through which a story can be told. And this is where ebooks fall shortas evidenced by the fact that so many of my readers chimed in saying that if they bought an ebook they liked, theyd be likely to go and buy the print version as well.

Its clear, then, that books are about more than intellectual property. Readers arent just after text on a page, but are searching for something else again.

So what is it about the physical book that an ebook doesnt currently provide?

Shelves worthy of Borges

The first, as suggested by the above, is collectibility. Though an ereader can store hundreds of books, all beautifully shelved, the digital library is utterly divorced from that of the physical library. Books are, to many people, a status symbol and an expression of self. My shelves are proudly overflowing with books that represent to me journeys, experiences, and reflections, and as priggish as it sounds, I do like that they position me immediately as a reader. I like being able to own'part of that reading experience, and a physical book makes that possible in a way an ebook doesnt. Physical books are a sort of proof'of ones bookishness; they lend credibility.

Physical books can also be readily incorporated into ones wider living experience as part of home or office decor in a way that ebooks cant (unless youre a minimalist or you proudly display your Kindle next to your other tech gadgets). Even the types of physical books that one collects provide a sense of style and personality: dusty leather classics (unreadadmit it), gorgeously designed coffee table books; rows upon rows of colour-matched series.

Having ones book collection organised across shelves (or stacks) rather than digital folders also creates an entirely different experience when it comes to browsing and discoverability. When selecting something to read from my shelves, Ill spend a good deal of time rummaging through my stacks and shelves in search of something that suits my current mood. Doing so on an ereader is far less organic (and fun, if Im to be honest).

My books, my preciousssesss

Print books are also yours to own: theres no danger that a dodgy device or sudden change of heart from a vendor will result in your library being'wiped out or tampered with. And with so many people wanting not just to'read their books, but also to collect them, this is a key attribute.

Part of book ownership involves the ability to lend, share and disseminate. Although were starting to see libraries and ebook stores looking at lending, currently the reality is that ebooks are crippled by DRM. The ease of passing along and sharing an ebook is well below that of a print book, making it hard to share the books you love with the people youd know would appreciate it. And with ebook onselling being (as far as I know) something not even broached yet, the ability to go rambling through a musty secondhand bookshop for some cheap and odd delights is strictly curtailed. To me, the beauty of secondhand books is that they have stories of their own that add to the story being told within the books pages.'Flipping through a book that contains a dedication, a personalised note, or even a scrappy thought or two in the margin is an experience in its own: it makes you part of a shared reading narrative.

You take the high road

Of course, this isnt to say that ebooks are irrelevant, or that theyll never overtake print books. I think ebooks are tremendously important, and will come into their own particularly in areas where the consumption of the material therein is prized over the book as a productfor example, textbooks, guides and mass market paperbacksor where portability and ease of accessibility is key. On the other hand, I see print books as continuing to be prized for their beauty and their very bookishness, and it wouldnt surprise me if we end up with two very separate versions of the book: the high-end collectible and the information-first ebook.


  1. I totally agree with all of the points you covered! I read books on my kindle BUT I still collect the ones that I loved in e-book format in a hard copy I use my kindle to read books that may not be so accessible to me at the time and then once ive read it, Ill hunt down the physical copy. I dont think the rise in e-readers necessarily means the death of the book, like some people are arguing.

  2. Stephanie /

    I think its fascinating that books are so collectible, Adrienne. I know people who seek out sets of covers and so forth as well, and I really think theres something about the book as an object that means a lot to people.

    My ereader is great for when Im travelling or reading a book I cant get here, but I use it *in addition* to my print collection, not instead of. This might change in the future, but it hasnt really changed my buying or collecting habits so far.

  3. I like what you say about our collections being the proof in a way of our reader selves. I just cant help wanting to display them all and the Kindle really doesnt facilitate that well. The sharing and giving away is still my biggest issue though.

  4. Stephanie /

    I love to display my books, too, which is funny given that otherwise Im not a label kind of person. Im also in the habit of pushing books on people, and ebooks make it tough to do, so I know where youre coming from there.

  5. My shelves will attest to my love of print books but my budget has never been able to support my five book a week habit. Most of my books are second hand paperbacks and to be honest a towering shelf of well read books has always been more appealing to me than rows of uncreased spines. My e-reader is as crowded as my shelves, actually more so now because there are so many bargains are to be had and in the last eighteen months or so I have probably bought 10 e-books to every print book.
    I am not precious about the medium really, the thrill is in starting a new adventure with a new story.

  6. Stephanie /

    I know what you mean about the reading budget, Shelleyrae. It used to be fine when I was working for The Boss, but now that Im self-employed, well, lets say that I really do love those review copies and my local library!

    One thing that I found interesting was that apparently sales of classics have gone through the rooftheyre out of copyright, and therefore can be distributed for free. I know that all the audiobooks I listen to are classics, so it doesnt surprise me that people are reading free classics for the very same reason. Hmm, topic for my next post, I think!

  7. I like to have my books displayed and follow a sort of rule of thumb to keep things from getting out of hand. I do not display paperbacks, although there are many gorgeous one, this just keeps the numbers down for me. Since I dont display paperbacks, these are the ones that I read digitally along with books emailed to me by the publisher, while ALL others are purchased in their printed glory.
    I love my reader, but I do hope that the printed word with remain a priority. Not owning a hard copy of my favorite books, especially classics would be horrible. I cant imagine entering a time where books destined to be a classic are not in actual print.
    Great post.

  8. Stephanie /

    Thanks for visiting, Steph! Hardcovers are prohibitively expensive here, so with the exception of the classics and a few others here and there all of my books are in paperback. I have been giving away many of my books, thoughmy tiny flat, just cant support this habit! I do suspect that even if I do switch exclusively to ebooks Ill still have a few pretty display books sitting about.

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