Not long ago e-readers were on the rise, and physical books were collectibles for recalcitrant luddites. But the demise of “real” books has been greatly exaggerated.
Research nowsuggests that we retain more from deep reading when we read from paper rather than a screen. Reading a physical book is not only visual, but also tactile. We feel the weight of the book. We turn a page. We remember a passage in relation to its placement on the page.
Not only are well designed and produced books more readable, a well-chosen home library dresses up a home, apartment, or office like nothing else. In “Why We Need Physical Books” at The New Republic, novelist William Giraldi recently argued, “Like the bicycle, the book is a perfect invention, and perfection dies very, very hard.” The issue is also “an aesthetic one—books are beautiful.”
If, like Ron Burgundy, your goal is to have many leather bound books in your rich mahogany-scented apartment, then books from Easton Press and the old Franklin Library may suit you. The classics are well represented, but also more modern books, often signed by the author are available.
I myself appreciate a book that’s beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. The lovely, imaginative editions from The Folio Society are strikingly illustrated and thoughtfully designed, truly beauty in book form. A Folio edition is distinctive on the shelf, but also feels and reads like a book ought to. Uniform editions from The Modern Library, Everyman’s Library, and the Library of America always look handsome in a bookcase.
But rather than buy decorative books by the foot upholstered to match your reading chair, begin with books you actually like and know. My collection started with paperbacks of books like On the Road, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Hobbit, and Casino Royale, which I upgraded to more substantial editions once my originals got tattered (or permanently loaned).
While many paperbacks don’t display well, any bibliophile would admire a collection of classic orange Penguin editions. Penguin also offers a set of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books with classic illustrated covers in paperback. I love the old pulp paperbacks with their over the top illustrated covers. My favorites are lurid looking pulps written by “respectable” authors like William Faulkner. Still, nothing can beat a first edition. Most first editions from recent years - even some from a few decades ago - are quite affordable. But be realistic. A Gore Vidal first edition is a prized pony, but a first from F. Scott Fitzgerald is a unicorn.
Despite the rise of the e-reader, there is currently a real renaissance in quality book design. There is no better time in history to build a home library of thoughtfully designed and produced books that can be read and admired for years to come. And once you’re all booked up, the next time you’re not quite put-together enough for a selfie, you can post a shelfie instead.
Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This post first appeared on the No Man blog in May 2015.