Lately I’ve read a lot of paperbacks.
When you read Balzac, you want a nice paperback. You want a Penguin or Oxford (or whatever you can find).
You are going to spend a lot of time with each novel. You want to get comfortable. You want to enjoy the look and feel of it. You want to be able to stuff it in your purse or read it lounging on the couch. You want to be able to read it at meetings while everyone else is playing on his or her phone.
You don’t want something that weighs a ton, like the two hardcovers (top) pictured below.
You have to sit at a table with these.
I weighed one of them and it is approximately 2 pounds.
I picked up these Balzac hardcovers for $2 each. They were published by A. L. Burt Company in New York, with the prefaces by George Saintsbury, who commissioned the first translations of Balzac in the late nineteenth century. There is no copyright, but the title page says “Centenary Edition.” They’re slightly foxed, corners bumped, etc. It was a Balzac desperation move. I couldn’t find these in paperback.
I have found my other Balzacs in paperback. Penguins, Modern Library. If only our Modern Library College Edition of Eugenie Grandet didn’t have that marginalia! A family member wrote all his notes in the margins because he didn’t bring his notebook to class. Everything is organized: circled, underlined, notes.
I replaced it.
I was a little upset when I found highlighting in a used copy of Balzac’s A Murky Business. But there wasn’t THAT much highlighting, and I remembered, Wait, I’m not rich.
Oh, dear. Perhaps I have Balzac’s collecting habit after all. He spent 100,000 francs in three years buying antiques. I’ve spent–well, not that much!–collecting a few Balzac paperbacks.
I used to take extremely good care of paperbacks so I could sell them. Long ago, when I had my first job (posh, but paid nothing), I sold books to used bookstores so I could buy more books and, yes, tampons. It was no big deal, but now I think back and laugh.
Now I’m having a fling with paperbacks. I read them in the bath. I read them in bed. I read them in the kitchen. Occasionally a coffee stain appears.
This is what a typical Balzac looks like after a few days. Poor Cousin Pons!
Are you scandalized?
Yours doesn’t look like this. I know. You’re not supposed to splay them open.
This is no longer Mint Condition, or Like New. It is a Good Reading Copy. Certainly it is a better reading copy than many I buy online, but I couldn’t possibly call it anything else.
In 2010, Smithsonian Magazine ran an article about the history of paperbacks, mainly about Penguin. In the 1930s, Sir Allen Lane had a brainstorm: while waiting for a train from Exeter to London, he could find nothing to read except pulp fiction or magazines. So he decided to publish paperbacks classics, mysteries, and literary fiction. He founded Penguin in 1935. Among the first books he published were Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Dorothy Sayers’ The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.
Goodness, if I could only find those at train stations now!
I’ve spent a life with paperback books. I’ve purchased most of Hardy, Kurt Vonnegut, Adrienne Rich, Aristophanes, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and Janet Evanovich in paperback at: Iowa Book and Supply, Howards, Second Story Books, Prairie Lights, Christopher’s, Jackson Street Booksellers, and many used bookstores whose names I don’t remember. There are also the online bookstores.
Why paperbacks? The joy of the Norton editions with the great notes. The great introductions to Penguins. The great pop fiction without introductions: Ngaio Marsh and the Poldark books.
I read hardcovers and e-books, too. Used hardcovers are sometimes cheaper than used paperbacks. E-books are often free.
I love paperbacks.
I could have a Year of Paperbacks challenge. Read nothing but paperbacks! I’m satirizing online life just a little. I love it, but, you know, I don’t do challenges. I read what I want to read.
Which do you prefer: hardcovers or paperbacks?