Monday, August 2, 2010

Books as collections

A couple of weeks ago, The Quarterly Conversation published a piece in which a book collector examined and explained his passion. The article, titled "Inveterate and Unrepentant Book Collecting: A Guide to My Favourite Contact Sport," Scott Bryan Wilson explains how he became interested in book collecting, offers examples of his most prized finds and defends the practice of being a bit of a book snob.

Now, I have a lot of books. I love having books around and I frequent used bookstores on a fairly regular basis. I also have books I have yet to read. Sometimes I even loosely arrange my books by genre (this shelf is mostly non-fiction, this shelf has all my Norton anthologies, etc.). That all being said, I would not consider myself a book collector, not like Wilson is. 

In his treatise, he describes how carefully he selects his books; how he might have multiple copies of some books because they're in different conditions; how there is a hierarchy in his world: first editions and signed copies are best, although he prefers not to have signed copies if they're signed to another person – copies with personal messages are the worst. 

In my world, I will generally choose to buy the less stained or bent copy, it's true. But, finding personal notes written on the inside front cover is like being let into someone else's personal joy. Knowing that a book was given with love just makes it better. For me, the bonus of a used book is that it comes with a history, and you can kind of share it with everyone who read the book before you. When I was a kid (read: 12-or-so years old), I thought the sign of a truly enjoyed books was lots of lines down the spine, so whenever I read a book I loved I made a special effort to crack and wrinkle the spine. This seems bizarre to me now, but it makes a lot of sense in retrospect when you consider how many library books and other pre-read books you read at that age.

All this is really to say that I think all readers are book collectors in some way – whether you collect titles and authors in your head, but do all your reading through the library; or you feel comforted by having old titles around you; or you get satisfaction from finding that perfect and rare first edition and read it carefully, so as not to bend the perfect spine – and I don't think it's problematic to acknowledge that other people enjoy books differently. I may not care what edition my book is, but it's almost comforting to know that someone out there cares very much, and will work to preserve those original tomes.

Image from Bookshelf Porn.

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