Dave asks about hardbacks vs paper

Dave of Dave’s Fiction Warehouse asks a perennial question about hardback vs paperback books. "I have fairly strict criteria for buying hardbound volumes: If the book is a gift, if it is a work I expect to frequently reread, if it is a reference book, or if it is something I just can’t wait to get my hands on. (Also, if it is offered at steep discount from Sam’s Club or Costco, but I can be flexible on that point.)". Dave has just sent his brother the hardback of Ian Rankin’s latest for a birthday present. He does not reveal whether he read it first ;-). Nor shall I reveal whether I would have done under similar circumstances ;-).

So when do you buy a hardback rather than wait for the paperback?  There are some authors I just can’t wait to read: I used to buy Elizabeth George in hardback when her books went through a phase of covering an issue that was particularly relevant to me. At the moment, though, I’m unlikely to read her at all, paper or hard. I buy J K Rowling in hardback the instant her latest is out (naturally). Other authors I buy in hardback include Ian McEwan, Mary Higgins Clark and Nicci French. I don’t buy hardbacks for gifts, though — I prefer paperbacks to read because you can easily fit two into your bag (I always carry two books, "an heir and a spare", to misquote). So I give paperbacks as presents — unfortunately this means my recipients would have to wait as long as I am having to, to read the last (?) Rebus novel.

14 thoughts on “Dave asks about hardbacks vs paper

  1. I admit I was tempted to read the Rankin book before sending it out, but decided to take the high road. Besides, I think he’d be able to tell.
    I didn’t realize you were such a fan of J.K. Rowling. I consider this a significant endorsement of her work. Do you also see the movies? I’ve seen three of them, and have decided to swear off the rest until I can read the books.

  2. I once bought all the Booker shortlisted titles in hardback as a big treat for myself – generally though I prefer paperback too. Hardback always seems such an indulgence – though sometimes I find that the hardback is cheaper than the paperback on Amazon which is strange.

  3. I once bought all the Booker shortlisted titles in hardback as a big treat for myself – generally though I prefer paperback too. Hardback always seems such an indulgence – though sometimes I find that the hardback is cheaper than the paperback on Amazon which is strange.

  4. Hardback is easier to read than paperback without the recipient being able to tell–with paperbacks, it’s a bit iffy!
    I strongly prefer paperback–I like those large-format airport paperbacks that appear simultaneously (or more or less) with the hardcover–but yes, I’ve got a handful of authors I buy in hardback also, often though by desperate indulgence rather than deliberate foreplanning. (And I buy quite a lot of hardbacks via Amazon these days, the markdown’s extreme.) The Harry Potter books, of course; young-adult novels by Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson; Lee Child, Dick Francis, a couple other crime fiction writers (the latest Robert Crais, for instance, well worth the money); ‘literary’ fiction by particular favorite authors (Kazuo Ishiguro, Alan Hollinghurst).

  5. Hardbacks look better on shelves, but I only buy them if I can’t wait for the book to make it out in paperback (natch, we have all the Harry Potters in hardback chez nous). Lately, however, I’m beginning to think a purge of books is in order — we have thousands and, really, how many of those am I going to reread? Meanwhile, they are dust magnets of the first order.
    Can I do it? Have any of you successfully thrown out lots of books, including classics and other beloveds?

  6. I purge my paperbacks (and some of the lesser hardbacks) every once in awhile, but I’ve occasionally regretted being so liberal about it. Now, the old “did I like it enough to reread it?” rule applies. Generally it doesn’t. The library here cheerfully accepts books of all description, so I don’t feel so bad about letting them go. I figure I can always check them out if I get the urge.

  7. I buy hardcover books when I can absolutely not wait for the paperback or when I know the paperback may be years away (such is the situation in Iceland, although it’s beginning to change). I also buy hardcovers when I need to replace a much-loved paperback I have read to tatters (I’m currently looking for a hardcover copy of Good Omens), when I am going to give it as a gift, and when it’s a reference book I know I am going to be using a lot.
    More here: http://52books.blogspot.com/2007/05/why-buy-hardcovers-or-putting-it.html

  8. I’ve weeded my library of a significant number of books (mostly paperbacks but some hardcovers) on two occasions. Both times I had regrets not long after. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again especially now that I see my accumulation of books as an act of humility:
    “The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market will allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary”–Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
    Amir of the blog Austrolabe who quotes this passage comments:
    “In other words, the majority of people see Umberto Eco’s books as a status symbol of sorts and make the assumption that all have been read. On the other hand, a minority of people realise that a library is simply a tool for discovering things and therefore regardless of what one has already acquired in knowledge (the read books), there remains much more to be learned (the unread books). Whereas the shelves of read books may lead a person to become conceited and sure of themselves, the unread books help to keep the person humble.”
    http://austrolabe.com/2007/05/20/on-libraries-of-unread-books/
    I’m not sure though that my wife will acknowledge the force of this rationale for book collecting. I suspect that she may point out that a person can be too humble.

  9. I buy almost exclusively paperback (starving college student here), but I’m a Victorian nut(case) so most of the books I want to read are in paperback. Very, very rarely do I buy a new book in hardcover–my reading list is so long that I wouldn’t get to the book anyway until it’s in pb.

  10. If I buy a paperback and I might leave it on a shelf, or piled on the floor of my study for months. OK I have to admit the study is nothing more than an enlarged cupboard. But if I buy a hardback it is something I will read right away,I will have not had the patience to wait for the paperback.
    The last two hardback crime fiction books I bought were Peter Robinson, Piece of My Heart, and Peter Temple, The Broken Shore.

  11. Sorry about the echoes, Clare – not sure what is going on there (I removed a few of the repeats).
    Yes, Dave, I am afraid I am a total HP addict. I started out having to read them to my children but got hooked. I think JKR is another Dickens.
    I do prefer reading paperbacks but they don’t last as long. Like Umberto Eco, Dave (L), I wish I could keep that many books. I have lost count of all the hundreds I have given away over the years. Now, there are many that must be out of print and unavailable, that my daughters would like to read. Or, equally, many that I have forgotten I’ve even read. Sad.

  12. If it’s a favorite author (Stephen King, Laura Lippman, Jodi Picoult or the latest in a series of tales about a certain boy wizard), it’s hardback and bought the day of release. Otherwise, I do paperback.
    I’ll also buy hardbacks if it looks interesting–by the time it comes out in paperback, I tend to forget about it.
    It definitely helps if you buy hardbacks from Amazon or a large chain–I like discounts. They encourage me to buy more. And I don’t really need any encouragement.

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