1. I despise those on-the-fly dirt-cheap editions of out-of-copyright classics. The ones so poorly put together they won’t last more than two readings. The ones with paper of such piss poor quality that as far as depletion of the forests is concerned? Insult to injury. I despise the way Barnes & Noble and the big publishers package up Austen and Dickens and Cicero and Moliere like trollops and send them out to make a quick buck.
If you’re dying to read War and Peace, for dog’s sake, don’t waste your money on shitty editions that will sit on your coffee table and look like the worst kind of posturing.
Go to the library. You’ll find a decent edition and you’ll be supporting a community resource. Or, if you’ve just got to have a copy, this is the time to go to a used bookstore, one in your town or online. Tolstoy doesn’t need the royalties anymore, and you might just find a really solid edition. One advantage of finding an older edition of an out of print book: sometimes you’ll get a bonus. An envelope stuck in the middle addressed to Mrs. Mabel Winterbourne, 41 Handcross Lane, Luton, Bedforshire with a 1932 postmark. A receipt for a suit that was drycleaned in 1973, three piece, wool, for six bucks. A movie ticket stub for Easy Rider, Last Tango in Paris, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Who knows, the spark of a story idea may be waiting at the end of chapter four, a simple folded piece of paper with a scribbled note: tell her you didn’t mean it.
Then again, if you’re a serious scholar of Russian literature, you will have to reconsider. You’ll want to look into the translation, and maybe even spring for the critical edition.
2. I heartily dislike bookclub editions, which aren’t much better than abomination number one above. A slightly better quality of binding, bad paper that feels almost sticky to the touch and will turn yellow in less than a couple years. Yuck.
Do you really need a bookclub to tell you what’s out there to be read? If you’re reading this, you know how to get around the internet. There are hundreds of websites and weblogs that will tell you everything you could possibly want to know about books new and old. Don’t let yourself be led by the hand. Go out there and make your own decisions.
3. It makes me laugh (and not in a good way) to see the big chain stores who sell abomination number one (and sometimes even get into the act by coming out with their own shitty editions) complaining to publishers about abomination number two because they don’t like being undersold. For example: U.K. Booksellers Threaten Publishers Over Cheap Book Club Editions
Payback is a bitch, or put much more eloquently by Elbert Hubbard: “Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.”
4. I like independent bookstores and I want to support them. But I find it hard to promote a bookstore who (1) sells my novels at full price and then (2) stocks used copies of that same novel on the same shelf. There’s a lack of logic there that ticks me off. I imagine a reader standing there in front of the shelf. You, maybe. You’re looking at Queen of Swords, new, $27. That’s a hunk of money. You’re thinking you haven’t paid the phone bill yet this month and really, you could get it for ten bucks less someplace else. But wait. There’s a used copy, and wow, only $14.
I can’t blame you for wanting to pay your phone bill. I absolutely understand and appreciate the fact that you really want to read the story, but $27 is just too much of an investment. What I don’t like is that the independent bookstore who wants my support has pretty much forced you to buy used, which cuts me out of the equation. If they only had the new, $27 copy on the shelf, no discount, you might think about it but most likely you’re going to leave and get the book someplace that’s selling it cheaper. But if the used copy is there, what are you going to do? It’s obvious. And it makes me really, really cranky — not with you, but with the bookstore.