Thursday, May 13, 2004

A strategy (and philosophy?) of book acquisition:

1. Hear about book. Some variation in steps below depending on vociferousness of recommendations.
2. Try Harvard library system. If available, check it out. If not, see if local library system has a copy. Recalls may be in order. If you can get a library copy, go to 4.
3. The library has disappointed you. What to do? Mull over what you’ve been told about the book by others. Could the proselytizer lend you a copy? If so, go to 4. If not, reassess your priorities. Could this be a situation (gasp) where you buy a book you’ve never read? If curiosity overwhelms you, go to 5.
4. Read the borrowed book. Are you in love? Go to 5. If not, return book and remember it with pleasure. If you want to read it at some point in the future, check it out again.
5. You want to purchase this book. Check local used bookstore for copies, then local retail shops and finally BN/Amazon/Ebay. The book is located. But you may be faced with a choice: softcover or hardcover? If options are available, go to 6. Otherwise, buy the damn book already (if it's not too expensive).
6. Now the calculus. What are you buying this book for?

a. A journey? In that case a trade paperback may be appropriate, although it will take quite a beating. Prepare to have a battered addition to your bookshelf. This is okay in the travel scenario; each dent and spill has a memory of a foreign place, new friends, humorous mishaps. If the journey is likely to be a particularly risky one, you might minimize your investment by going so low as to buy the mass market paperback. Avoid this if possible, though, as books that accumulate memories of important trips are likely to be something you want to keep for a while.
b. A class? Will you be highlighting it? Hardcovers should not be highlighted.
c. Pure pleasure? How do you see yourself reading this book?

i. Curled up with it before going to sleep? Carrying it with you to read in fits and spurts as you go about town? These militate in favor of the trade paperback.
ii. But (there is always a but): is this book an investment? That is, will having this book be a permanent assertion of identity? Will you want to read this book (perhaps once a year, perhaps whenever you need a pick-me-up) repeatedly for the rest of your life? When you are old, will you still wish to read it, and doing so think of the many times you read it before and how things were then, how you’ve changed? A hardcover is suggested, nay, required.

I strive to have each permanently acquired book be a carefully chosen manifestation of a particular desire. The bookshelf tells a story: what is most important in life? Where have I been? What is worth returning to? The shelf reflects the self.
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