Books as objects

Consider this part two of the ‘fluff entry’ theme I am working through. Expect to see something related to short-essay writing on Monday.

This may have been mentioned previously. It may have been in an entry before February this year when I made the big cull of old, untidy, entries. In that case, I’ll mention it again, for context. As much as I enjoy reading my books I much prefer buying them. I like organizing them, recording them in my little bibliographic database, marking down the date, place, and cost of each book in the inside flyleaf or half-title. I like the physicality of books. Actually that physicality, the material nature of books, is essential for my reading. I need the tactile features of the reading process to help retention and recall. This does mean I make some odd choices in book purchases.

I can, with small effort, rationalize my ownership of 13 volumes from the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, published by Harvard University Press. These are similar in form and function to Harvard’s Loeb series of Greek and Latin classics but they have the added advantage of facing page translations. They are affordable, high quality, scholarly editions. All sensible reasons to own them as resources. They are also beautiful little objects and I often read them because they feel so good to hold.


The paper, the colour of butter, is smooth and light. The semi-gloss jackets cover dark-plum cloth boards with black title plates stamped in gold. The headbands may be decorative but the bindings are surprisingly sturdy, considering the budget price and the general decline in the quality of manufacture for this type of book. The attached bookmark ribbons are a nice touch and are colour-coded depending on the language. Old English collections are given blue ribbons. Latin texts have red. I don’t know what they typeface is but it has a clean, Humanist feel.

Fulk's ed. of the Nowell Codex


These books also have generous margins, which I appreciate now that I have started reading the Vulgate in an effort to practice my Latin. The margins give me plenty of space to add little vocabulary summaries and sundry commentary, which feels very medieval and scholarly all on its own. The Vulgate is a good place to start for the tenuously Latinate reader as its grammar and diction is fairly simple, compared to to Classical or Medieval texts.

Unfortunately, now that I have started to get them, it’s hard to stop. That Vulgate will likely run 12-15 volumes. The first 4 volumes, issued in 5 parts, only gets you to Daniel. That’s 32 of the 73 books, as divided up for the Douay-Rheims version.

But what would I spend my money on otherwise? What, cars? Must I conform to the North American Stereotype? No! I will continue to stubbornly buy my antiquated books and studiously ignore those tablets and e-things that are pronounced, as they have been so pronounced every few years since the 1990s, as the death of the book in mixed shouts of glee and horror. I’ll be fine, over here, with my clumsy books that will always work, whether you have signed the user license or not.


One thought on “Books as objects

  1. Pingback: 2012 review | Pen, Book, Sword.

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