This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Literary looks-ism

Readers can be a looks-ist group.

For example, 'Don't judge a book by its cover' is true, but how closely do we follow that old maxim? When it comes to cover art a lot of us act like a crow attracted to a shiny object. We flock to the glossy photos and drawings that ornament the fronts of our hardcovers and paperbacks and skip over duller covers.

A more apt example might be the pick-up scenario at a bar. You're sitting there on your swivel stool. On your left is a mass-market paperback, thick, with smudgy print and a cover that shows off its picture about as well as a passport photo shows off its owner's image. On your right is a trade paperback, the front cover as showy as an 8 1/2 x 11 glossy, strong paper and clear print, with a little special illustration accompanying the beginning of each chapter. And why not throw in a hardback on the next stool - although you find its great-looking form, stylish jacket and luxuriant pages too intimidating to approach.

So there you are sandwiched between these two candidates vying for attention. Trade paperback clearly comes from some wealthy corporate bookstore or posh independent bookshop. Poor little mass-market paperback obviously stepped off a supermarket check-out counter shelf. Whose do you approach? Quality over quantity? Or what if the books are the same title? The same content, but different packaging? Fearing you can only afford a beer when a gin-and-tonic might be more to trade's liking, do you apt to offer a Sam Adams to the mass-market and settle? Or do you scrape together your pennies and get a cocktail for the trade just to have a looker on your arm?

Like the speaker in Dorothy Parker's short story, I usually fall for the one on the right. But it's not fair...or economical. I once opted for the trade version of P.S. I Love You instead of its smaller counterpart because it came with a nifty Cecilia Ahern bookmark and a bigger picture of Gerard Butler on the cover. Looks-ist, I tell you.

But I do love my trade paperbacks, even more possibly than my hardcovers. The latter serve to remind me how much money I spent. The trades are, in this way, friendlier.

It's a shame, really, because a person could afford so many more books if she bought all mass-markets. But what's really a shame is how much you have to spend these days for a book, trade or otherwise.

At one time, if memory serves me, most books were the smaller size. How much more egalitarian that was! And since there was little to compare it to, who cared? But no, publishers had to introduce a new way to discriminate, this time involving inanimate objects.

I feel quite ashamed, really. I just bought a trade edition of DuMaurier's Rebecca, that I'd been eyeing. It finally was in the bargain section at about a third of the regular price. But I already had a copy, gotten as a teenager and now held on to for sentimental reasons. Isn't that good enough? Apparently not for me. Sorry Rebecca. Still, sentiment can sometimes trump looks, and you'll always have a place on my shelves.

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