Confession: for a book lover, I almost never buy hardback books. Given that they can range from $25 and up, I’d much rather buy paperbacks – they’re cheaper, easier and lighter to tote around, and easier to curl up with. I do make exceptions – if it’s a book by a mentor or teacher (like the amazing Negroland: A Memoir, by Margo Jefferson, which you must go and buy and read immediately), or a book that I have to read right this minute (like Go Set A Watchman, by my literary heroine, Nelle Harper Lee). But honestly, if it’s hardback, I will often find reasons not to read it until it’s out in paperback. Even hardback library books annoy me, because they are so clunky and heavy.
My nephew, on the other hand, the 8-year-old connoisseur that he is, ONLY likes hardback books. Sure, he’ll deign to read the paperback Magic Tree House books with me, but he prefers hardcovers, or “real” books, as he says, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. When I get him blank books for his budding authorial skills, he wants the hardback ones, not the paper moleskine cahiers. “No, JJ, hard books. Real ones.” Okay, buddy, lesson learned.
I did, however, recently buy City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg. Granted, I had 40% off, which eased the price. I wanted to read it because I love big, complex books, and I’d been hearing so much about the book, given its $2-million advance. My curiosity about what a $2-million story looked like won out. It felt like an illicit treat, buying this hardback that weighed me down so heavily (at a little over 900 pages). I got it home, and when I finally started reading it, I remembered why I used to like hardcovers, and maybe why my nephew does. It makes reading feel special, like an EVENT. The dust jacket, with all its embossing and fancy textures and font and colors. The actual design on the cover of the book, under the dust jacket – I love the surprise underneath. The sheer heft of the book. And – dare I admit this – The woody smell of the pages with the sharp, acrid ink on top. Yes, I sat there and smelled my book for a good 30 seconds. No shame in my game.
And I was reminded, a little, of why I love books, the actual physical books. Maybe my nephew has a point.