Thursday, June 19, 2008

Luc Sante's Library

I don't read the Wall Street Journal. Like ever. Which is weird, if you think about it. I guess I don't mix with the capitalist sorts much, but you'd think I'd run across a link to it once in a while. Anyway, that must be why I missed Luc Sante writing about his personal library last month:

When I have a choice I go for interesting jackets, elegant typefaces, acid-free paper, but above all I prize compactness. Whenever possible I go for omnibus editions. The more books can fit in a single volume, the happier I am. And I mourn the passing of the pocket-sized paperback, which was once allowed to contain all sorts of material and is now strictly reserved for the kinds of books that inspire gold-embossed titles and peekaboo die-cuts. I like to carry books in my pockets, and trade paperbacks are an awkward fit, except in the dead of winter.

Me too! Especially about the mass market paperbacks. I love my mass market copies of Ada and Zuckerman Bound and Midnight's Children (which, uh, I haven't read yet) and Lucky Jim and on and on. The good old days, when any sort of book might be picked up by any sort of person in a drug store, at the airport, at something called a "newsstand!" A few months ago, in Montreat, NC for my grandmother's funeral, I stayed in the house of a friend of a friend of an aunt's. Looking for something to read, I found a falling-apart copy of Immortal Poems of the English Language, which did nicely. It just seemed right and perfect to have this book in a compact edition. (Actually, this one is still available in a mass market edition, so I've added it to my wish list.)

I don't know enough about the economics of publishing to say for sure, but my guess is the publishers make a lot more on individual copies of the larger, trade paperbacks. How much more could they possibly cost to produce, yet the retail price is about twice as much. Maybe mass markets will someday make a comeback.

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