Books as Objects: Feh.

We have all been there: Stepping back from an immaculately arranged bookshelf after spending an inordinately long amount of time arranging the shelves just so, with books placed lovingly in their own special spot, primed for the long haul.

The long haul, of course, being a period of time when the book won’t be touched, opened, read or otherwise exposed to the light of day.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else: heck, the other day I was arranging books on a prominent spot in our new Wisconsin home, making sure they were arranged just so. Midway through I had a pang of guilt: truth is, I’ve never actually read most of the beautiful books I was using as interior decoration. Some were obscure classics formerly belonging to my wife’s late father; some were beautifully bound tomes I’ve acquired over years fully intending to read.

As I said, we do all this. It’s so easy to be seduced by the physical qualities of the printed book, the heft in your hands, the notion of a book as a lovely object. Writes Helen Selzer in her blog:

“I sell books. Not eBooks, but real books with pages made of paper. Books rare and old.  My books smell of paper and ink. The pages are browned by age, and sometimes smudged with use….

“For me, there is a kind of magic to this; there’s tremendous intimacy shared with those who came before you; and there are innumerable tactile pleasures as well – all of which imbue the words with meanings that cannot be conveyed by the words alone.

“You must hold a real book in your hand, smell the pages, examine the type face, the spacing between letters; must note the shape and size of the book, the weight of it.  Only then can you experience the book’s full import.  And its magic.”

After I think about this, I must differ. Selzer is a used-book vendor; she wasn’t around for the birth of that book, working with the author during what can be a long and difficult gestational period. She wasn’t around to help shape the actual essence of the book: the text. She is exclaiming great admiration for its packaging, not its content.

Which is also why she’s quick to dismiss eBooks: you lose the pretty packaging, trading it for immediate access. My goal in publishing a book is getting it read, exposing it to as wide an audience as possible. I am passionate about what my authors feel compelled to tell the world. It takes a certain amount of obsession — and a high level of courage — to push a book out to an indifferent world, and I don’t really care if an interested reader uses an eReader or prefers a printed copy: that’s their decision, not mine.

A bad book in a lovely container is still a bad book. And a great book in electronic format is still a great book. Right now there’s a huge amount of fear and self-delusion in the book industry when it comes to the future of the book; to say there are huge generational gaps is an understatement. Right now I see the most passionate readers armed with credit cards and Kindles, and I’ll be damned if I diminish their buying choices because I am distracted by shiny, pretty objects. –Kevin Reichard