I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about books (all right, all right, I am always thinking of books, jeesh). And I mean almost every aspect of books. Book covers, book formats, hardbacks, paperbacks, eReaders and of course, dust jackets. My thoughts may be scattered but they are revolving around books!
My muse got rolling with Michael Dirda of The Washington Post. He reviewed Book-Jackets: Their History, Forms, and Use by G. Thomas Tanselle (2/5/12). Talk about a fascinating book and a must read for all book lovers. Prior to this book, I will confess that I had not given much thought to book jackets, other than what an annoyance they were at times, and what an inadequate book marker they made.
I came to these conclusions from past experience. I have always been tough on my books, whether it was Make Way For Ducklings or Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. As soon as I could toddle, I always had a book in hand, or under my arm, or stuffed in a bag. Books were and still are a constant companion. And books that had dust jackets? Well, let’s just say the dust jackets did not hold up under such cavalier treatment. They were always torn, edges curled under and even folded. I used them to mark my place when my real book markers had fallen out (another blog) or I had already dog eared too many other pages in that book. This application didn’t work too well because I would end up dropping the book I was reading, then the dust jacket would fall off and I would lose my place once again. Sigh. I was a librarians nightmare!
Later on in high school and early college years, I stopped buying hardback books with their dust jackets for the most part. To feed my addiction for fantasy and science fiction, I started buying paperbacks because I could afford those in mass quantity (think Star Trek series) and book jackets became a thing of the past for me. Oh, there were still certain books where I bought the “expensive” version but during this time paperbacks reigned supreme.
I still have almost every book I ever bought, except those my daughter has absconded with (and they are many)! Everything from mysteries to fantasy to science fiction to romance. All with marvelous covers and no book jackets. And all the worse for wear because nothing had protected them from my abuse. OK, that’s not completely true because I just came across a lovely handmade book cover a friend had sewn for me about 15 years ago.
Enter women reading erotica. Some of the books my friends and I were reading had covers we were too embarrassed to be seen with. Lurid covers or lurid subject matter. For some, it was those fabulous bodice rippers that featured Fabio or others like myself, it was The Story of O , Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus or others of that genre. Whatever. So a friend sewed these wonderful book slipcovers made of leftover fabric scraps she had around the house. Voila! Freedom to carry the books we wanted to read where ever we went. Freedom to read whatever we wanted outside the house. We loved it and always asked her for more as gifts and for our own use. Later, I saw them in a local bookstore. Others obviously had the same idea and the same need. Much later I used these same slipcovers when I started reading m/m fiction and didn’t want to have to explain the covers. Then came eReaders and my Kindle.
I started with eReaders because as my eyesight worsened, I needed to be able to adjust the font size. Also, if I wanted to read my m/m fiction I needed to acquire eBooks as not all were available in print. I started reading eBooks on my computer but as it is a desktop, reading in bed just isn’t the same or even possible. So I finger skipped my way over to Amazon, bought my Kindle, and started a love affair that continues to this day. We have our ups (oodles of m/m books) and downs (the removal of some GLBT books from their inventory, since restored) but love it I do. Thanks, Yoda.
Soooooooooo imagine my surprise when recently I was watching my local Channel 4 (WRC) news and they did a segment on publishers of romance/erotica and the affect eReaders have on their sales. The big news? That more women are buying and reading erotica because of their eReaders. That the sales of erotica have skyrocketed due to eBooks and eReaders. Why? The same reason I once had covers for my paperbacks. Freedom. Freedom from embarrassment, freedom from questions, and freedom from others disapproval. This includes the freedom from comments such as “I think it’s disgusting that women are reading porn.” That reaction came from a man stopped on the streets as a part of the segment. Yikes. But I will bet my favorite Adam Levine picture that same man has a Playboy or porn somewhere at his house. *shakes head*
Are eReaders the new cover jackets? In a way. The older dust jackets protected the covers and bindings of the books, kept them from growing faded or soiled. The front cover of the dust jacket also helped advertise the story within, promoted the author and advertised the publisher. A printed book without its dust jacket loses its value, not so the eBook.
A eReader stores books electronically. A eBook won’t fade, it’s bindings won’t break, and its pages will never tear. A eReader also functions in just the same manner as plain dust jacket or my later cloth versions did, it helps hide the book from sight and the judgement or derision of others. Ereaders, whether it be Kindle, Nook or other device are here to stay and so are eBooks to the chagrin of some and absolute joy of others, including myself.
Have I given up my books in print? No and I never will. I love the feel of a book in my hands. I love a afternoon or day spent in a used book store trolling for treasures. I love my bookshelves filled with old friends and adventures. I love the way books smell. Books are a true cornucopia for the soul, overflowing with feelings, textures, memories, and emotions. My eReader doesn’t replace that, it just adds to it. I no longer need my book jackets, fabric covers, or the anonymity that the eREaders offer. But others do, if only to save them from derision and judgements like the guy quoted on the news.
So here’s to eBooks, eReaders, and all the authors (published or self published), and publishers. For all the wonderful stories, all the great adventures, all the memorable characters in every genre under the sun and beyond. My thanks and a tip of the old wine glass to you. I wouldn’t make it through the day without you. (And yes, I am thinking fondly of those book jackets. I may have to go and dust a few off).
Book available from Oak Knoll Press http://www.oakknoll.com/bookimag/107173.jpg