Wednesday 5 November 2008

For the Love of the Book

An aspect of our experience with fiction literature that has not received a great deal of attention from psychologists is the book as an object. For many ardent readers, the book itself, its cover and pages, can be almost as important as the words within. The allure of long out-of-print hardcover editions beckoning those unsatisfied by current paperback releases. For many, there is something so pleasing about cracking open a brand new hardcover for the first time, about the jagged pages of a first edition, the texture of its spine and the heft and feel of it in your hand. Readers differ greatly, however, in their approach to books. Some treat them like sacred objects, to be gently lifted from the shelf and cradled in one’s hands. While others seem to ignore the physical book itself, absentmindedly worrying away at the corners of each page before turning. It is my impression that this emotional and reverential feeling toward books is more likely to exist in readers of fiction. Nonfiction readers seem more likely to view the book as an opportunity for dialogue, quickly filling the empty margins with their own notes and reactions. In contrast, the thought of writing on a book would offend many fiction readers. For both, however, the book itself is an important object, and one that cannot be easily replaced by an MP3 file, or electronic book reader. I imagine that those who study the history of the book, how books have been made throughout history, would have some interesting things to say about our relationship to the physical properties of books and how new media are beginning to alter this. This article from the BBC provides an interesting starting point for discussion.

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