Monday, November 29, 2010

Beautiful books

As you may or may not have noticed (although I hope by now it's kind of obvious), I have a thing for books. Jonathan Lethem once said: "What I like are books in their homely actuality—the insides of the books, the mysterious movements of characters and situations and the emotions that accompany those movements. The play of sentences, their infinite variety". I would add to that description of the homely actuality of books the pleasure received from the book as a physical object. The way a book feels in your hands when you lift it, the smoothness of the pages, the smell of the binding glue in mass market paperbacks in an in academic trades, the art on the cover.

On this, the eve of my receiving a Kindle, here is an ode to the physical book. I am what Cory Doctorow calls a book-person. In a lecture on universal access and copyright, Doctorow described the relationship that some people have to books:
We are the people of the book. We love our books; we fill our houses with books. We treasure the books that we inherit from our parents and we relish the idea of passing our beloved books on to our children. We enforce worthy books on our friends and we insist that they read them. We even feel a weird, and possibly inappropriate kinship with people we see reading beloved books on public transit or airplanes...We know our tribespeople, the other people of the book, because they inhabit homes given over to books -- walls lined with books, piled on the stairs and beside the bed, even bathrooms filled with damp, swollen paperbacks. Our books are us.

I've never been one to pay much attention to the design of a home (anyone who's been in my apartment knows that I live in what has kindly been called an "intellectual fugue state", which is a nice way of saying that it isn't readily apparent that I pay attention to anything that isn't housed between two covers, like tidiness or cooking), but homes without bookcases feel empty to me. I am loathe to travel without at least five or six books -- hence the Kindle -- and it's a rare moment when any surface of my home isn't host to a haphazard pile of hardcovers and paperbacks.

Today, I bought a lovely cloth-bound hardback copy of Raymond Williams' Culture & Materialism, and it got me thinking about book covers. I've never been a believer that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. You shouldn't judge them by only their covers, but a beautiful cover can be as much of a factor in my purchase of a book I'm not sure I'll like as an ugly cover is a factor in me putting it back in the shelf. And so, without further ado, here are some pictures of books that I love with covers I love. You can't feel their weight or touch their pages, but beautiful covers are one part of what I love books, in all of their homely actuality.

For more book covers, visit The Book Cover Archive. If your tastes run less towards beautiful books and more toward beautiful ways to house your books, try Bookshelf Porn.

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