The Charm of Battered Paperbacks

When working on my master thesis on Arthurian fiction last year, I read Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur for the second time. I had the Penguin classic edition, which consisted of two volumes. As I did the first time, I did most of my reading in the train while commuting to class or work. As it is, bags are not very book-friendly. My copies already looked battered after the first time I had read them, so you can probably imagine how they looked after I finished reading them. And then came the searching for citations, marking pages with colorful sticky notes, putting pages spread-eagled on the surface of my desk because I needed to do some typing…the spines had multiple cracks, pages came loose, the covers had multiple scuff marks because they took a tumble from my desk more than once…

Considering they were practically falling apart when I had finished my thesis, I replaced them with a very pretty Barnes & Noble leather-bound edition. Here’s a picture, as an alternative to the shabby paperbacks I no longer own:

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Though I’m very happy with this fancy hardback edition (it even has illustrations!), I did feel some regret replacing my battered copies. I’m not even the overly sentimental sort. They might have been nearly falling apart, but they were read twice, and they were loved, and it showed. This one? Hasn’t been actually read yet. And I probably won’t anytime soon; as much as I love Le Morte D’Arthur, it isn’t exactly easy reading material.

Whenever I hear people (customers, co-workers) at work about keeping books pristine, or see a blog post or video stating that people can’t stand cracked spines or ‘abused books’, I keep thinking about those battered paperbacks of Le Morte D’Arthur. Of all my other paperbacks that brave my bag and get put back on my shelf battered and bruised after I finish reading them. Of my copy of Great Expectations that has water damage because I dropped a glass of water on it by accident (imagine having to blow dry your book at 2AM; it generally makes for a funny story). Of all the paperbacks with cracked spines on my shelves, because they’ve been read as opposed to the paperbacks that haven’t been read yet. You can actually pick them out if you look at my bookshelves, and I love that you can see that they were read.

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So, most of my read paperbacks are not in pristine condition. I don’t willfully abuse my books, but they inevitably look ‘read’. Bigger books have cracked spines at the very least. Does this matter? Does this mean I don’t love my books? I think this notion not loving it is a bit silly. Of course I do! To each their own; nothing wrong with cherishing your pretty hardcovers (or paperbacks), and I’m not saying pristine books aren’t loved. But cracked spines and scuffed covers don’t mean books are ‘abused’.

I think battered copies have a certain charm. They look read. Loved. When I traveled, to work, to class, to another country, they went with me. And all the wear and tear, all of that reading and loving and accompanying me during travel, shows that I read and loved them.

Of course, there are ways to handle books to prevent the cracking of the spine, but where is the fun in that? I hold/read them the way I do because I prefer reading them that way. I could put them in a plastic bag to prevent damage by travel, but why bother? I see books as things to be used. To be enjoyed, yes, loved, but also to be used. To be read. For instance, A Storm of Swords is my favourite installment of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It also looks the most battered of my copies of the series (all of these paperbacks are small bricks). It’s bound to get worse when I get around to reading it a second time. And that’s fine. If a book gets even more battered after reading it multiple times, it only shows that I loved it, right?

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That’s not to say that I don’t have pretty, pristine books on my shelf. I used to get fancy hardcovers a few years ago, because they look good on my shelf. I sometimes still get them if I don’t feel like waiting for the (mass market) paperback. However, I’m more inclined to read those fancy hardcovers only at home, because I don’t want them to get damaged. But because I don’t have a lot of time these days, and my spare time has to be juggled with other hobbies and obligations, I do most of my reading in the train and during break times at work. This means that hardcovers tend to sit on my shelf for ages until I finally get to them (especially because borrowed books are also read at home; they’re not mine to batter, so I keep them as pristine as possible). I don’t have such reservations with paperbacks.

So ultimately? I get a lot more use and love out of those battered paperbacks. Their shabby state shows that I’ve read them and loved them. To me, that’s the point of buying and reading books.  And replacing a battered copy with a pristine hardcover, like I did with Le Morte D’Arthur? I had to resort to using tape to keep the pages together, so there was little choice, but I probably won’t do that again…

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On Readathons and Reading Challenges

Ah, Readathons and reading challenges. I’ve seen plenty of them around even before I started this blog; people are doing them on BookTube and I occasionally stumble upon them on GoodReads. A friend/co-worker of mine loves doing them as well, and yes, the themes are quite fun and interesting, varying from Pokémon to a reading challenge dedicated to diversity. Posts by Nerd in New York and Drizzle Hurricane Books inspired me to write my own opinion about Readathons.

But, before we get started: what’s a Readathon or a Reading Challenge? Well, basically, it’s a challenge to encourage you to read as many books as possible. During a Readathon, you usually do so in a certain amount of time. There’s also a Bingo or a list format that earns you a mark/list-filler whenever you read something that suits the topic. Sometimes, these challenges have a theme, which can vary from reading books about LGBT to reading books with blue covers.

There are pros and cons to reading challenges. The obvious pro is: you’re likely to get more reading done! The competitive spirit motivates you to read more books, which is a good way to get through that endless TBR pile. It also allows you to connect with people who also participate in the challenge, as you’re probably reading the same kind of books which encourages discussion and exchanging recommendations. Finally, a challenge can make you read books you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise, which can not only broaden your horizon and let you step out of your comfort zone, but also lead to unexpected favourites.

So yes, I can obviously see the merit in doing a reading challenge or Readathon. It’s a fun way to get through your TBR pile!

Still, I don’t do them.

Okay, there’s one exception, and that’s the annual reading challenge on GoodReads. I pick a number of books I want to read that year, and I try to read that amount of books. However, that still allows me to select whatever book I want to read, and I tend to pick a number that I know is realistic for me.

And that brings me to the reason behind me not doing any other reading challenges or Readathons: because a lot of these tend to have a theme, I’d feel pressured in reading a certain type of book. I tend to pick a book based on what I want to read next, and I feel a themed reading challenge would eliminate that sense of spontaneity. I also like to keep things varied, which makes me switch genres a lot. Not very compatible to a themed challenge — if I were to read, say, 7 thrillers one after another, I’d be sick and tired of thrillers before I reach the 7th book. Basically, for me, a Readathon or reading challenge would needlessly pressure me into reading books I feel like I have to read, rather than reading what I want to read. In other words, a very fast way for me to get into a reading slump.

And, knowing me, I tend to want to read books ‘not allowed’ for the challenge when I do participate in one.

Moreover, as a rule, I don’t own enough books to match a certain theme. A library subscription costs money in my country, and buying everything is even more expensive. As it is, I unfortunately don’t have a magic tree growing money in my back yard. And honestly, I don’t need even more excuses to buy more books. My space isn’t endless, either. But I’ll leave the discussion about space management for another day!

And finally, I don’t have the time to read a lot of books in a short amount of time. My job, other hobbies, and my social life tend to interfere from time to time.

But, like I said, nothing wrong with Readathons or challenges, or the people who love participating in them. I like the idea and some of those themes certainly do seem fun. Plus, the excitement of others is fun to see in the community! I just prefer not to do them myself.

What about you? How do you feel about reading challenges?

Rereading Books

When I was young, I owned a limited amount of books. I would reread the ones I had numerous times, some of them becoming quite battered in the process. Even library visits usually ended with bringing books I had read before home so I could read them again. I can’t quite recall how many times I’ve read the Griezelbus series by Paul van Loon, Het Wolfsvel by Ton van Reen, or Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren.

As I grew older, however, things changed. I got an income, so I could buy more books. Eventually, this turned into a problem I’m sure most of us are familiar with: an endless TBR pile. Things grew worse when I discovered GoodReads and its annual reading challenges. As an English major, I had to read a ton of books for university as well. In general, life got busier and busier. I began to grow less inclined to pick up a book I had already read. Sure, I meant to reread all of the Harry Potter books or the entire Temeraire series, but somehow I rarely get around to revisiting my favourite novels.

There are, of course, exceptions. Last year, I ended up rereading The Hunger Games trilogy for an essay, and I discovered that I liked the series much more on my second reading. I wrote my master thesis about Le Morte D’Arthur and The Warlord Chronicles, both of which required me to reread them. I loved to do so! Rereading Malory’s medieval text was so much more rewarding now that I’m more familiar with Arthurian fiction. The Warlord Chronicles is my favourite book series, and it was awesome to revisit it, to see details and foreshadowing I had initially missed on my first read.

These exceptions drive home the reason of why it’s so nice to reread a book. You pick up details you might have missed, sometimes certain (life) experiences make a revisit more rewarding, and sometimes you appreciate a book better on your second reading. When a sequel comes out, it’s also nice to refresh your memory. With that in mind, it’s a shame that I don’t dedicate as much time to rereading books.

GoodReads has finally added a reread function, however, so at least that’s no longer an excuse. Rereads even count for my reading challenge, so hopefully I’ll revisit my favourite novels soon! Now it’s just the daunting TBR pile that’s in the way…

So, what about you? Do you reread books? How often? Your experiences? Feel free to share in the comments!

Buy Less, Read More; Plans to Reduce my TBR & My First and “Last” Book Haul

In December, I had bought another pile of books, most of which came in some time this month. I had intended to share them with you guys (and I will further down this entry), but I’ve also been thinking. Pretty much every bookworm can relate, I’m sure: buying more books than you can read. It’s something I’m very guilty of doing as well, which means that, despite the decent amount of books I read a year, my physical TBR pile isn’t getting any smaller.

If there is something I’ve learned from another hobby of mine that includes a backlog, video games, it’s that a large amount of untouched copies can become overwhelming. I’ve purged my video game collection and I’ve decided that, for future purchases, I’ll be far more selective. Though I had purged my book collection as well, these were mainly books I had already read but didn’t really enjoy; I haven’t made any similar resolutions for my TBR pile.  After all, so I thought, I’m a much faster reader than a gamer. This week, however, it dawned on me that I probably should think of some restrictions if I want to avoid an overwhelming bookcase stuffed to the brim with books I haven’t even touched or will be touching in the near future.

So I’ve decided to do the logical thing: buy fewer books, at least until I’ve significantly reduced my TBR pile. A while ago I’ve made a shelf on Goodreads listing the books I own but haven’t read yet, and that amount it currently at 107 books. It’s about a third of my books collection, and that amount needs to go down. I definitely won’t be able to read even more books due to IRL obligations and other hobbies, so this seems to be the best solution.

I have, however, one exception to my resolution: books of series that I already have partly on my shelf, such as Sapkowski’s The Witcher and Maas’s Throne of Glass — but I’d only get the one that’s next in the series, and until I’ve read that one, I won’t be getting any of the subsequent ones. This also doesn’t include any borrowed books, obviously.

But before making this decision I had ordered that pile of books in December. Despite what I’ve written above, I’ll share them anyway: the very first book haul on my blog, and my last one for the foreseeable future:

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You might recognize some of these, because some titles have been mentioned in my previous entry involving my most anticipated reads of 2017. Others may be new to you.

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
Before the Feast, by Saša Stanišić
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Het smelt, by Lize Spit
Baccano!: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local, by Ryohgo Narita
Baccano!: 1031 The Grand Punk Railroad: Express, by Ryohgo Narita

These were at least books I had been intending to get for quite a while. Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy are the sequels to Ancillary Justice, which I loved, and I have now completed the Imperial Radch series. Before the Feast has been on my wishlist for ages, as well as A Little Life. I got interested in Rashomon after watching the anime Bungo Stray Dogs — I also intend to read something by Osamu Dazai, but that will obviously have to wait. I got Het smelt at my work, which I’ve been thinking of getting for months due to its intriguing plot. Finally, the two Baccano! books are light novels. The anime is one of my favourite series, and I did really enjoy the first light novel, The Rolling Bootlegs.

So, there you have it: my first and “last” book haul as well as my plans for reducing my TBR future purchases. I’ll be sure to let you know the results in a couple of months! Obviously, I’ll still be posting reviews and other related entries once in a while.

Have you gotten anything interesting the past month? Or did you try to buy fewer books in the past? What are your experiences with trying to reduce your TBR by buying fewer books? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!