I’ve just finished reading the first two books of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – the story is absolutely wonderful and I loved it – but reading it in hardback was bloody hard work at times. I find reading hardback versions so awkward – I struggle to find a way to hold them comfortably for any length of time and end up shuffling about as if I’ve got St Vitus Dance! (I reckon anybody who grew up in Glasgow heard “St Vitus Dance” referred to every day – any time we moved when sitting in a chair or lying on the carpet at home the phrase “Have you got St Vitus Dance?” came out!). If you’re interested, Saint Vitus is considered to be the patron saint of dancers, apparently, with the eponym given as homage to the manic dancing that historically took place in front of his statue during the feast of Saint Vitus in Germanic and Latvian cultures. Colloquially it became the name given for Sydenham’s Chorea disease – I think that’s how it entered Glaswegian parlance rather than the Germanic dancing route! Then again, we Glaswegians have been known to indulge in the odd bit of manic dancing!!!!! (usually on Saturday nights when the pubs near closing time!)
Anyway I digress. Back to the Hardback.
I just find it awkward to hold – it always feels too heavy to hold in one hand and if I hold it in two then my ability to drink tea or coffee and read at the same time is seriously impaired. Pathetic as it sounds I get a sore arm holding up a hardback book (and I know that makes me sound like a real wimp but I can’t help it!). In addition, I always think hardback books are meant to be read sitting up straight, at a desk for example. When I read fiction I want to lounge and sprawl about – doing that with a hardback doesn’t work too well! Mind you they have their advantages – they are more durable and so look better with age (I like that – I’m going to think of myself as a “hardback” from now on!!!). They also look more imposing to me when I see them on my shelves at home – and I like the “image” of them. As a child who was reliant on the library for a supply of reading material, the hardback book had real “status” to my mind – I thought of them as the preserve of the rich, the successful and the intellectuals – though where I got this notion from I’m not sure as rich, successful, intellectuals were rather conspicuous by their absence where I grew up! And yet that impression of the hardback as the preserve of the rich and clever is still with me to some extent even today – and even though I know it’s really nonsense!!
For all the difficulty I have in getting comfortable with a hardback book, I still buy them from time to time but as I look at them on my shelves they pretty much fall into a few categories for me.
Firstly there are those that I tend to buy by authors I love, when I can’t wait for the latest novel to appear in paperback. Consequently there are more hardbacks than paperbacks by Ian Rankin (what’s not to love about the Rebus stories), Ian Banks more recent stuff, and some books by the likes of Roddy Doyle, Louis de Bernieres, Sebastian Faulks, Peter Carey ( I hated the feel of “Parrot and Olivier In America”, couldn’t get comfortable reading it at all and yet I loved that book) and of course Murakami.
Then there are those I pick up in charity shops – they are mainly biographies, and a fair proportion of these are sports related, especially football. I’ve no idea why I buy those in hardback but I do – perhaps it lends physical substance to some of the more ‘limited’ substance and formulaic writing I encounter on the pages of countless footballers’ biographies – maybe sub-consciously my view of the intellectual status of the hardback lends credence to some of the less-than-intellectual subject matter! (of course all things Eric Cantona are exempt from this mild criticism!)
Third come poetry books – I not only buy these in hardback but they are the only genre I actually PREFER to read in hardback – mainly because they are small enough to be solid and also feel comfortable! The durability is the key here. My early days “poor student” poetry books are in a right old state!
Finally, as I look around there are a few hardbacks that I’m pretty sure came when I was a member of a “Book Club” years ago. They’d send you a form to order what you fancied but it would also include the “Editors Choice”. You were supposed to send back to them within so many days if you DIDN’T want the “Editors Choice” I was hopeless at that and so ended up with several hardback books that I’d not otherwise have chosen. How else can I explain the presence on my shelves of things like the Craig Thomas “thriller” (and I use that word advisedly) “All The Grey Cats”, The Shorter Illustrated History Of The World (aaaaagh!), and John Gribbin’s “In Search Of The Edge Of Time” (read it all the way through and had absolutely no idea what it was on about!)
So while I like the status and the look of the hardback, it’s the paperback I love most. I’m one of those who’ll be eternally grateful to Penguin for their introduction of paperbacks to our shores back in the 1930′s.
Mind you there are other uses and advantages in the hardback book. As Alfred Hitchcock said “‘The paperback is very interesting but I find it will never replace the hardcover book – it makes a very poor doorstop!” and perhaps even more thoughtfully Robert Clark pointed out “Always buy pornographic books in hardback – they’re easier to hold with one hand!” And on that note…………………………………!