My Love of the Mass-Market Paperback (or Why I’m Thinking About E-books)

July 17, 2008

I love books.

I love the whole process of reading them – turning the pages, shifting my grip to keep from breaking the spine too badly, and looking around for a makeshift bookmark because all my “real” bookmarks are impossible to keep up with. I love the unblemished look of new books and the smell of older ones.

So my growing fascination with e-book readers makes me feel a little dirty. Yeah, I’m into technology. But it’s one thing to want Google Maps on my phone, and it’s another to seriously think about curling up with some gadget for my reading time. For years I just couldn’t see myself doing it, but recently that’s changed. Some of the reasons have to do with my area and its library system and shops.

But the biggest thing that’s giving me e-reader envy is that I’m getting sick of constantly struggling with format issues.

It’s hard for me to justify buying hardcover books. I know that they’re great for authors, but I can be happy for the writer while being disappointed for my own sake, right? They’re less portable, and I could buy at least three paperbacks for the same price. And most importantly, I’m running out of shelf space. I have two large bookshelves, 6 smaller ones, and a custom built-in that takes up one entire wall of the spare bedroom that I pretentiously refer to as my library. Sure my husband has some books, but the vast majority of that space is taken up by my stuff. Even if there was room for them, I’m not buying any more bookshelves. So, with the exception of one or two authors, I try to get new hardcovers from the library and wait the paperback out.

I’ve also found that it sometimes dampens my excitement about a series. I know that sounds odd, but ordinarily I’d read each new book at least two or three times before the next one is released. After I return each new series novel to the library, that series can get a bit “out of sight, out of mind.” Then I have to try to remember when the paperback version comes out, and hope that I don’t get confused about whether or not I own a copy of a book that I know I’ve read. It’s a pain.

But do you want to know what’s even worse?

Trade paperbacks.

I’m serious. I kind of hate those. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they have their uses. I like them when it comes to nonfiction or reference books, the kind of things I’m likely to flip through often. But for entertainment reading, I dislike them intensely.

They’re more expensive than mass-markets, which is annoying because I resent paying more for my least-preferred type of book. They’re bigger, so not only are they less likely to fit into a jacket pocket or purse, they take up almost as much shelf space as a hardcover. And they look goofy and out-of place whether I shelve them with my hardback books or my mass-markets. They even look strange if I screw up my system by putting them all together on some kind of annoying-format ghetto shelf, because the sadists that design them seem to like making them different heights. Yes, I’m weird enough about my books that it matters to me how they all look together on a shelf.

Practical considerations and aesthetics aside, trade paperbacks seem to be used in an arbitrary way that makes it as confusing as possible for the customer. Sometimes they’re released and then followed by a mass market after a reasonable amount of time, other times the publisher doesn’t bother and it’s the trade edition or nothing. I read one series that followed up their hardcovers with a trade release instead of a mass-market one. Of course they only started that after the first book, so now it’s a choice between re-buying the first novel or having an un-matching set. (I’m not the only one who cares about these things, I swear.)

I don’t care about having thicker, nicer paper. I’ve never thought of traditional paperbacks as especially fragile. I have paperbacks that have 40+ years on me, and they’re still in fine, readable condition despite their age and thin paper. I can only remember needing to replace two of my regular paperbacks. One of them lasted almost 20 years of being shared between myself and my two brothers. If I had to guess, I’d say it was read at least every other month during that time. The other was a book that I dropped in the tub a couple of years ago.

If I get an e-reader, I won’t be as bound by the limitations of my local book stores for quick purchases. My shelves won’t get out of control so quickly, and I won’t need to deal with the constant frustration of having a likely book only available in hardcover or trade editions. At this point, I’m really just waiting for a next generation Kindle to make an appearance (and maybe that will be sooner rather than later).

Of course I’ll always still want to buy real copies of my favorites. After all, those e-readers are way too expensive to even think about dropping in the tub.

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2 Responses to “My Love of the Mass-Market Paperback (or Why I’m Thinking About E-books)”

  1. Cliff Burns Says:

    For me, it doesn’t matter WHAT form your reading takes, just so long as you remain a devotee of the printed word. I have books in a variety of forms–there are “dead tree” editions of my work, plus I’ve also posted novels and short stories exclusively on my site. Whatever my readers prefer is fine with me…


  2. […] 27, 2009 I’ve been considering e-readers for quite some time, so I finally took the plunge recently. I’ve had my Kindle 2 for about three weeks, and […]


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