Our Reading Lives

A Love Letter to Mass Market Paperbacks

Anna Boisen

Staff Writer

Anna is a violinist and lifelong book lover. A non-native Virginian currently attending graduate school in New York, her hobbies include thrifting, drawing, wishing she was at the beach, and of course reading. Sci-fi, fantasy, and Jane Austen novels, sequels, and retellings hold a special place on her bookshelf and in her heart.

First of all mass market paperbacks, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you have such a dry and clumsy name, that you have been defined by your market function. You deserve better. You are not a bland commodity to be distilled down to profit margins and convenience. You are bold yet humble, curious and generous and kind, and the apple of my book-loving eye.

“How can you say that,” I hear you cry, “when there are those that are bigger and better and more beautiful than me?” Fear not, dear one. Those hardcover editions with their custom-tailored jackets don’t tempt me. The trade paperbacks with their pliable covers and reasonable prices don’t call my name as I walk by. They have their advantages, this is true, but when I’m lounging in the mid-July sun or sipping a warm drink in a café, there is only one book with whom I wish to share my time, and that is you.

How could I resist? You are so eager, so excited to to see the world. You don’t complain about the size of my bag, have never strained to break free of its confines in a childish attempt to stay home or be carried in my arms. You befriend my wallet, make small talk with the rotating cast of coins dancing around the floor of my purse, casually greet gravity without allowing yourself to be pulled too closely into its greedy embrace. You are the perfect travel partner. On flights and train rides you are an engaging yet unassuming companion; you can sustain conversation without disturbing my fellow commuters, but do not begrudge the moments when my attention lapses and I gaze aimlessly out the window. In waiting rooms you lend me your patience, in restaurants and coffee shops you selflessly donate a few minutes of your time to my entertainment as I await the arrival of my human friends.

Other books complain at being held up, claiming that they are afraid of heights or that the table is too uncomfortable. Their sharp corners become elbows, poking and clamoring for space, and their heavy edges weigh down my hands and leave marks on my skin. They must be coddled, lovingly held in laps or placed on display so as to gratify their vanity. Not you. You are an adventurer. You crave change and jump at the chance to see the world outside of the bookshelf. You are small in stature but contain multitudes, housing an entire universe within your pages. Your words are closely stacked—a crowded arrangement, yes, but one that invites me to seamlessly join the world you contain. The widely-spaced sentences of your hardcover cousins may be eminently respectable, but your cozy lines only emphasize your friendly nature.

One day you will have shared all you can with me. I will turn the last page to find nothing but cover separating me from reality. I understand that at this point you will be tired, that you will long for a place in which to rest and recover from your travels. I promise to repay your generosity by giving you a good home, a sturdy shelf with many companions and a carefree view of the lives happening around you. I’m sure that someday we will be ready to rekindle our friendship, and we’ll spend time together again, reliving old memories and forming new ones as I understand your words more deeply each time.

Dear book, I know that you will develop faults. Your cover will fade and your spine will crack and wrinkle with age until I can barely read your name. Don’t worry. Every folded corner represents an eager return to your story, every coffee stain an hour or two spent in your company. You may not be the most impressive book on my shelf, but as we grow old together, I can promise that you will be among the most loved.