Sunday, November 15, 2020

Books: Objects of Art vs. Reading Material


While out on an errand a couple of days ago, I made another quick stop at my local Half-Price Books. As a buyer, I've always appreciated the diverse offerings of Half-Price Books but, as a seller, there's no way I'm going to let them rip me off ever again. Anyway, it was only my third visit (second to this store) since early March - and I only allowed myself a window of 15-20 minutes inside while avoiding people as much as possible.

My desire to avoid other customers ended up with me spending more time than usual in the "nostalgia" section of the bookstore. That section is generally filled with over-priced and worn out books from the fifties and sixties, but it also includes a lot of special editions that are printed especially for collectors. Stuff from publishers like the Folio Society, The Franklin Library, Easton Press, etc. Some of the books are bound in leather, some come in slipcases, and most of them include some really wonderful illustrations on high-quality paper. They are, in fact, rather beautiful, little pieces of art.

And that leads me to my question. Do book lovers buy these limited editions only of the books they've read and admire or do they buy them more as collectible art objects? These books are generally pretty expensive, especially the ones that are signed by authors and illustrators. They can go for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each, especially when word gets out that a particular edition is almost sold out. 

As for myself, partially because my available shelf space is nil, I can't imagine buying a book I already know deep down in my heart I won't be reading - or at least aspiring to read. But out of curiosity, I recently joined a Facebook group called "Fans of the Folio Society" because the pictures being posted there are so beautiful. The group is extremely active and friendly, and I've really enjoyed my two weeks there looking at the pictures and learning about the books and the mindset of those who love them so much. 

I even came home with my first Folio Society book, one appropriately enough titled First Folio. It is a collection of the forwards to 15 of the First Folio books published in the 2000s, and a few of the forwards are written by favorites of mine such as Colm Tóibín, A.S. Byatt, Peter Ackroyd, Jonathan Coe, and Julian Barnes.It is my understanding from the group I mentioned that the book was a Folio Society giveaway to subscribers back in 2008 when it was published. And, believe it or not, I enjoy reading book forwards and never skip over them, so I do "aspire" to read this one someday. (And it helped that it only cost five dollars.)

I'm not exactly hooked on the idea of collecting this type of book, but I'm intrigued enough to consider adding a few, especially if I can find them in used-book bookstores. I own three others of the type, all three having been signed (Margaret Atwood, E.L. Doctorow, and William Styron), already and I find something especially nice about handling such high quality books every once in a while. But every one of these I would place on a shelf would mean another book being placed out of sight, and I struggle with that enough already.

So how about it? Do you collect books as objects, pieces of art, or only as reading material? 

8 comments:

  1. I don't have the money or the space to collect books as anything other than reading material...but I can definitely see them as collectible objects and art, too.

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    1. I hear that. I'm most definitely short of both those things myself. ;-)

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  2. Really I think I collect books to read, but I do own some that I consider almost like pieces of art, such as Nigel Slater's beautiful cookbooks. I certainly would not pay full price for Folio books, lovely as they are. But I do own one which I picked up secondhand somewhere, In Search of England by H.V. Morton. The foreword is by Simon Jenkins.

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    1. Cath, I would never pass one of the special editions up if I can find it at the right price, but like you, I'm not going to be spending full price on many of them unless they appeal to me in a whole lot of ways. I get more of a kick from stumbling upon signed copies of old books in used-book stores, especially those of long-deceased authors. That's happened to me at least two dozen times now over the years.

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  3. I don't really collect books. Like Lark expense and space are a consideration, but also the few books I've bought for their beauty are rarely returned to. I keep my most of my gardening books, some favorite literary criticism, my yoga books, a several other nonfiction books, but most fiction goes out the door. Which reminds me that I've a box of books to deliver to a friend. :)

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    1. Lucky friend!

      Space has definitely limited my purchases in the last ten years or so. I don't even have room to add bookcases even if I want them now. My wife's patience has reached its limit. :-)

      I try never to add anything to my shelves that I know I would never read no matter how beautiful an object it is. That doesn't mean that I've read everything on the shelves, but my intentions are good, anyway. That includes the antique books I have from the mid-1800s. The print in those can be a challenge but I've read a couple of Dickens novels that way.

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  4. I mostly collect books as reading material- and keep the ones I think I'll enjoy reading again. I do have a few that I mainly admire for the illustrations or photos- catalogs of fish species, compiled sketchbooks of some of my favorite artists, and a few that I bought particularly because the illustrations were fantastic (Frankenstein illustrated by Bernie Wrightson). I think that is the most expensive book in my collection, by far.

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    1. Jeane, knowing your reading tastes, I can imagine exactly the kind of book that you would hang on to forever. Those would be fascinating to me even as someone who doesn't read so many nature-related books. I share our appreciation of illustrated classics, too. I have some Dickens books that are illustrated and that's the only reason I bought them - and why have several copies of most of the man's novels.

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