Reading in Bed: Paperbacks vs. Hardcovers, & Quasi-Collectibles

reading in bed tumblr_nfm2s10ofA1qhavevo1_500Reading in bed has always been my thing.

“Honey, I’m home.”

I walk around in my stockingfeet while I make a cup of tea.  I retire to my bed with three or four books.  I keep meaning to replace the platform bed with a new frame and a spring mattress.  I am too old to sleep on a platform bed. Was I ever young enough to sleep on a platform bed?  I need a nice big fourposter bed with a tall headboard.  And several very comfy pillows.

When you read in the supine position, as Laurie Colwin called it, paperbacks are the perfect weight.  They are light and flexible. The spine of your Oxford paperback of War and Peace will not crack as you rest it lightly on your raised knees. On the other hand, a hardcover of War and Peace is unwieldly.

wuthering-heights-2I fell in love with paperbacks as a girl in the ’60s.  Who could resist the Ballantine paperback editions of Lord of the Rings? Or the Gothic love scenes depicted on the mass market covers of Wuthering Heights?

I do have my share of hardcovers. I own first editions of Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver,  Margaret Drabble, and others whose books I bought when  new.  But I am not a collector: I can take or leave limited editions.   I am still gobsmacked by the idiocy of my spending $330 on the complete edition of  Trollope’s The Duke’s Children (my shocking introduction to The Folio Society). I am oblivious to the allurement of leather covers et al  but I wanted the complete text.

Anyway, I was sorting a few quasi-collectible yet affordable hardcover volumes and decided to take some snapshots.

IMG_3078The five  tomes in the photograph are:  Dickens’s Great Expectations (Penguin Hardback Classics), with cover art and design by Coralie Bickford-Smith; Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet Major (Folio Society); Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (Heritage Press), Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (Everyman) , and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (Heritage Press).

I was startled when I pulled my copy of Hardy’s The Trumpet Major off the shelf and realized it was a Folio Society book.  I bought it at a used bookstore years ago, because I loved the  beautiful engravings by Peter Reddick.   I characterized it a “book-in-a-box club” book.

Below is a photo of an illustrated page from The Trumpet Major.  It’s a lovely, slightly tall red book with beautiful creamy paper and crisp print. .


The photo is a little dark, isn’t it?

Hardy’s Wessex novels are also available from the Heritage Press, which  was founded in 1935 as an offshoot of George Macy’s Limited Editions club.  The Heritage Club published cheaper unlimited editions of the illustrated classics originally published by the Limited Editions club.)

My Heritage Press copy of Far from the Madding Crowd has an introduction by Robert Cantwell and engravings by Agnes Miller Parker.

Below is an illustration of Bathsheba Everdene carrying a pail.

IMG_3081We all have to reread Far from the Madding Crowd to get ready for the new movie with Carey Mulligan.

I loved the Julie Christie movie, did you?

I  also have a much-read Heritage Press edition of a novel that never makes a good movie, Wuthering Heights.

IMG_3082The color lithographs by Barnett Freedman have a curiously modern Y.A. air. There are Catherine and Heathcliff  in all their rock-and-roll splendor as they stride across the moor. All they need are tattoos and piercings.


Penguin hardback classics and Everyman hardbacks are an inexpensive, sturdy, and attractive alternative to paperbacks or collectible hardbacks..

I love my Penguin hardback of Great Expectations and my Everyman of Buddenbrooks.  No illustrations, though.

IMG_3087Are you a hardback or a paperback person?  And do you collect any books?

Paperbacks or Hardbacks?

Sir Allen Lane, founder of Penguin

Sir Allen Lane, founder of Penguin

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?