A Reader Versus a Bibliophile

EscribanoI like orange juice.  I really like orange juice.  But I sure don’t make a habit of learning about the properties of citric acid and optimal growth conditions for Tropicana Florida oranges.  And I’m cool with that.

But I can’t apply the same to books.  Not the ignorance about the production of such an item, but my complacency about it.  I’m not talking about the words – I’m talking about the pulp.  The sawn, milled, pulped, compressed, printed pages glued between embossed cardboard.  That, my friends, is as far as I know about the physical shell protecting the tales I love.

Which is why I’m a reader, but not a bibliophile.  See, I throw my old books on the ground.  I bend their pages.  I don’t dog-ear them (except, very occasionally, for the really crappy ARC when I need to remember a particularly excruciating turn of phrase), but I stretch the spines.  And new books?  I treat them carefully, but I don’t bend over backwards to keep them pristine.  Just doesn’t happen.

In other words, the content matters, not the exterior.  If I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities, I don’t actually care whether it’s the $4.99 Everyman Edition or the 1858 first book form issue currently going for $25,000.  Yeah, I know it’s history in your hands, but Sydney Carton will still haunt me either way.  So griping about clinches and heaving bosoms aside, I’m really happy reading a book in most forms, beneath any exterior.

And I’ve found that my attitude affects my reading preferences.  Booksellers are okay – to various degrees of enthusiasm, I read and enjoyed Anne Mallory’s Seven Secrets of Seduction, Carlos Ruiz-Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind (I don’t know anyone who didn’t), and Pam Rosenthal’s The Bookseller’s Daughter.

But get into the nitty-gritty of bookmaking, and my eyes start to glaze over.  For the longest time I felt like such a pleb.  You call yourself a book lover?  Eh?  Right, so what’s with all those cheapo mass markets littering your bookcases?  And how can you not care that it’s a gilt-lettered spine, yellow end-papered, red clothbound, blind-stamped 1858 first book form issue??  Well, I more or less stopped trying.  It’s not my thing.  I got over it.  And I never finished Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas, two books which I remember featuring lots of technical book descriptions.  I wanted to.  But I never have.

Recently however, the particulars of bookbinding have been popping up in my mind.  I’m going back to school in four days, and for the first time in ages I’ll need a proper agenda, not just a wall calendar and scrap paper stapled together.  But I looked at the prices, and I saw the reams of paper at home, and I thought, dude, I can do better than spend $15 on something I’ll shove in a corner in 12 months.

So following my recent DIY fad, I’ve decided to make my own agenda.  I already did it semi-recently with grotty paper and fraying thread, but that format isn’t durable or suitable for two years of grad school.  (Hell no.)  I’ve looked into different paper binding methods (stapling, folding, gluing, sewing), and looked at cover material (Cloth? Cardboard? Cardstock? All three?), and bounced ideas off of friends (“Okay, I’ll shell out the $15 and buy the frickin’ thing for you”).  But the fact is, binding together a collection of paper that is light, durable, attractive, and usable is hard.  No, actually, it’s easy to do it half-assed, but doing it well?  As with most things in life: Super, mega, ultra hard.

Which kind of brings me full circle.  I’m still not reading up about the niceties of Tropicana production.  I’m probably not going to join the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.  And my agenda currently looks like something the rat regurgitated.  But hey – it’s a start.

Are you a reader, bibliophile, or both?  Can you think of any other bibliophile books?  And have you ever made your own book?

- Jean AAR

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19 Responses to A Reader Versus a Bibliophile

  1. Leigh says:

    Jean, I have to say it has never crossed my mind to make a book or personal agenda (which I guess is what we call planners) Now calendars are popular with personalized pictures etc. but I have never done that either.

    I do think we have some reviewers who actually do know how to bind and repair a book.

    Like you I am not extremely hard on books, but still I have slept on them, my dogs have peed on them (and no I don’t keep those)or they just have fallen apart.

    Good luck with grad school!

  2. Kim T. says:

    Interesting post! I’m the exact opposite…never bend the spine, organize and reorganize my books on the shelf. But it all makes sense, since I’m a rare book librarian!

    Recently really loved Miranda Neville’s The Wicked Marquis which was a bibliophile’s dream. Neville has worked in the field and her descriptions of early 19th century book culture are perfect.

  3. Katja says:

    I’m definitely a reader, not a collector.
    What is really annoying to me, is if I just want to read the story and am asked to shell out immense amounts of money for the book, just because it’s a rare edition. All I want is the words! I don’t care about the package.
    I don’t even buy hard covers most of the time. They need too much space, cost too much and are too heavy. All I want is the words, preferably in an easily consumable format.

    If I trusted the technology a little more and they wouldn’t set up silly ordering barriers on ebooks all the time, I’d be an ebook woman all the way.

  4. Ell says:

    I am definitely a reader, not a bibliophile. Having said that though. I have always saved the books I love, and loved the books I save, and however silly, I have always felt a little sad about replacing a well loved book that I have finally read and reread to death.

    As I write this there is a historic wildfire – yes truly! – burning about 20 minutes north of me, and the wind is blowing toward the south. We haven’t been evacuated yet, but the possibility/probability is looming, and I am trying to decide which of my books I should try to save along with the obvious stuff…….wish me luck, folks!

  5. hannah says:

    When I was in high school, I went to a week-long summer camp at a liberal arts college. I was in a group where we made and illustrated our own children’s book. I’m still very interested in book arts and book repair, even though I’m admittedly an ebook junkie. Really, I enjoy making (or repairing) books rather than collecting them.

    In addition to the books you listed above The Burgundy Club series by Miranda Neville features heroes that are rare book collectors.

  6. Amber says:

    When I read, “I throw my old books on the ground. I bend their pages,” I literally cringed. I have a physical reaction to books being bent or ruined in any way. While I understand it’s just a *thing* and not the essence of the book itself, I just can’t help it.

    But I am a Kindle reader through and through. The ease of getting books right away and having my entire backlog at my fingertips is too fantastic to ignore, even for the smell of books. But now that I think about it, not having the risk of marring a book is actually a plus as well. If I do own paper books, they are signed copies or hardcover/collector’s editions, etc. These will not be read, however, just kept :)

  7. Susan says:

    I am a reader, not a collecter, too. Even further, now that I’ve gone digital, I’m divesting myself of the paper books I’ll never read again faster than you can say “shelf space”.

    And personally I always liked new books. I hated to read books with yellowed paper, tattered covers, and broken spines. I just remarked to my husband the other day that if my copy of The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie were in paper, it would be in tatters by now because I’ve re-read it so many times.

    The only paper books I’m keeping are craft books with pictures, such as all my knitting books, and some hard to find volumes I’ve collected over the years. I’m gleefully flinging everything else.

  8. Patty Champion says:

    Chalk me up as a reader not a collector – except for beloved children’s books that I grew up with.

    I’m a librarian and recent Kindle Konvert. We’ve got the fear of wildfires nearby and should they get closer all I have to do is grab Mabel (my Kindle) and we’re good to go.

  9. Diane says:

    I’m a reader for sure; but I’m also a re-reader so I keep my books in great shape and enjoy reading them all over. I don’t even like lending out my books unless I’m sure my books will be treated with the greatest respect.

  10. Jean Wan says:

    Leigh – In the end my agenda (actually a blank notebook using very old graph paper) didn’t turn out too badly; my main problem was tucking in the cloth at the ends of the spine using Gorilla Glue, so it’s a bit ragged there. But all in all, it didn’t cost me a cent, and I think it’ll actually last.

    Ell – I know what you mean. I have very definite feelings about my old copy of Robin McKinley’s “The Blue Sword” – even though I have three other copies, of the exact same edition, it’s still not the same. Is that the Texas wildfire? I hope you got everything you needed – good luck!

    Susan – I think as my books start falling apart, I’ll start to replace them with digital copies. But actually, they stay in pretty good shape considering the beating they take, so I think it’ll be a while yet before my bookcases disappear.

    Patty Champion – Kindle Konvert. Nice.

  11. I’d have to say I’m a bit of both. I have plenty of books that are just for reading. Mostly commercial paperback fiction. However I do love illustrated books, and we have quite a collection of older, illustrated editions, as well as facsimile editions of older books. Some of these are far more than just the words; they are works of art.
    I also have a lot of my grandmother’s books – gorgeous leather bound editions of poetry. Naturally those have a sentimental value far beyond any other consideration.
    It’s quite possible to be both reader and bibliophile with two parallel collections of books. Where possible I now buy fiction books on my Kindle, but I can’t see myself ever getting to a point where I don’t have books on shelves. Really, I wouldn’t want to. In that regard I’d have to place myself in the bibliophile camp.

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