things to hate about books

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.

War and Peace 1946 ed
War and Peace 1946 ed

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.

6 Replies to “things to hate about books”

  1. Speaking as an unpubbed writer (i.e, what do I know?) I don’t think I would be too upset to have folks buy my book used. The potential word-of-mouth might be worth more to me in the long run. Unless, of course, the reader passes along the used book to all her friends ;)

    I’m with you on the rest of it, though!

  2. I’ve only seen used versions beside new titles in the university book stores. It seems tactless, to me, somehow, to do so with any other type of book.

  3. As another of those myriad unpublished authors out there, I have to say that the thought of money doesn’t even enter into my thought process as I’m writing or dreaming about being published. I guess I know my chances are slim anyway so why even think about that part of the equation? But, maybe I would, if I ever get to that point. Still, my dream is just to have a book on a bookshelf in a bookstore and that’s all, right now, that is really important to me. Just to be READ would be enough for me at this point. I guess I never think of writing in terms of “making a living” and am fortunate in that I don’t have to think of it that way so maybe I just have a different mindset when it comes to that subject. Maybe, as I said, that would all change if I ever actually got published.

    As far as the “shitty” editions of books…personally, I love a good copy of a book (and I love old books) but if a crappy edition is the only thing someone can afford (and some people just don’t buy off the internet — I’m always amazed at folks who are still afraid to use their credit card online!) then I would rather they read a bad copy than not read at all.


  4. Lynn — sure. In those cases where there’s no public library, a poor copy may be the only choice.

    And you’re right — I’m probably more sensitive to most of these issues becausse I do make my living from royalties. On the day that my stuff stops selling, I’ll have to find another way to pay the mortgage.

  5. Rosina – I agree totally that a used book of an older book may have a gem inside – for instance my used copy of “Barney’s Version” by Mordechai Richler had a wonderfully funny warm and romantic inscription in the cover from the wife of the recipient on his turning 50 (or 60?? can’t recall) but it was a wonderful gem – plus the same person or possibly the original owner had inserted a clip from the newspaper re an interview with Richler on the book when it came out – also a gem!!!! The enjoyment was worth the price of the book alone.

  6. You know – you might wonder how things get stuck in books, I wondered that myself. Then the library called me up one day to ask if I wanted the Mother’s Day card that had been returned, tucked inside a copy of a book I’d borrowed (can you believe it was a book about women’s mental health? You can’t make this stuff up). It was indeed my card, given to me at some point, probably used as a bookmark. The only saving grace is it wasn’t the card my children gave me that year, it was from my sister-in-law. Hello, Freud?

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