Sunday, June 01, 2008

Judging a book by its cover

There have been a lot of articles about book collecting online lately. A couple of days ago, I saw this blog post about a company called Book Decor that sells books by color scheme, for the purpose of interior decoration. (And no, the books are not meant to be read — they're not even in English.)

Among book-loving folk, of course, that's a cardinal sin — buying books for looks, rather than for the enjoyment of them. Even most book collectors buy a book because of what it is — not nameless books in a foreign language just because they have a cover that matches your decor.

I also saw two other articles on book collecting: The Book Collection that Devoured My Life, an essay about one collector's (read: packrat's) effort to cull his collection, and A Passion that Speaks Volumes, an article about the rare and antiquarian book market in Denver.

Each of these three pieces demonstrates a different approach to collecting and enjoying books. I can't completely understand the first approach, buying books solely for how they compliment your living room. I also can't fully understand the second approach, acquiring books indiscriminately (or, for that matter, buying primarily paperbacks). No, I am a book collector at heart, which means I love books as much for their covers as much as for their contents.

When I buy a book for its looks, it's from a collector's standpoint, not an interior designer's: For instance, some of the things I gravitate toward are antiquarian children's copies of classics with beautiful illustrations, Victorian novels with pretty covers, and matching sets of books (such as my set of Brontë books). However, I rarely buy a pretty book if the topic doesn't interest me in some fashion, and I have no compunctions about reading them, either.

Here are a couple of pictures of my books. I have many, many more, but this will at least give you an idea of what my bookshelves look like:

An amateur book collector's bookshelves

In the picture above, two-thirds of the books on the top shelf are Victorian copies of the books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. The others are classics such as The Scarlett Letter and an old edition of The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as a few old children's books. A few are there simply for being collectible — for instance, one is part of a numbered, limited-edition print run from 1899, and another is the oldest book I own.

Of course, the shelf beneath houses all my modern writing and reference books, so you could say my collection is rather eclectic.

Another bookcase housing antiquarian and collector's books

The bookshelf in the second picture (above) is dedicated to my collectible books. I collect several old children's series, which is why there are blocks of books that look like one another. This is also where my Brontë collection resides.

It is without shame that I confess to judging books by their covers, but I don't believe I am the only one — if people didn't care about a book's cover, publishers wouldn't spend so much money on cover design. I just don't think a book should be judged solely by its cover.

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