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I Have Smelled Many Books

When I was in high school my idea of shopping for literature involved shifting through the paperbacks in the St. Vincent de Paul basement for a quarter a piece. In those days spending anything more than five bucks on a novel was unthinkable.

It took a year of begging before my grandmother would buy me a 1,000 page hardcover Pro Football Encyclopedia for $50. I still have this book although it is clearly 20 years out of date and all of its information is readily (and more efficiently) found online. I have none of those musty and wormholed St. Vincent de Paul paperbacks. I generally donate my old books but I’m sure I just threw those into a dumpster.

I probably spend more time looking at the cover art of some books than I do reading them. I have several editions of some books simply because I like the cover art. I like flexing covers. I like flipping through the pages just to look at the color of the paper. I have smelled many books.

A few weeks ago Matt Bell went the pay what you want route with two of his e-books (the deal has since lapsed).  Both books are regularly $.99. I have not purchased either of these although I would if I had a Kindle. I assume Mr. Bell does a solid business although I base this assumption as much on his reputation as a writer as I do on the format.

How much would you pay for a story? For a novel? In e-book format? As a cheaply produced pamphlet? As a high-end collectible (as in the Radiohead newspaper album version of King of Limbs)?

Lily Hoang’s collection Unfinished: stories finished by Lily Hoang is $50. I spent some time in serious reflection and still have not ordered it, although I probably will. I’m not certain how much difference it makes to me that the book is illustrated.

What is the most you would spend on a work of fiction (with or without illustrations)?

Greying Ghost is easily one of my favorite presses–not simply for the quality of its chapbooks but for the care and beauty of the objects they hand make. I read these texts like holy artifacts (the delightful ephemera they include with every order as well). They seem to do a pretty solid business, too–at least, their stuff seems to quickly sell out.

Are we eventually moving toward a moment where literature is either manufactured and sold cheaply (or for free) or as high-end, specialized ‘objects’? Are we there?

A friend in graduate school argued a literature’s text was the only thing that mattered–a cheaply produced paperback book that sold for $5 was preferable to any $15 trade paperback. Presumably then a free e-book without art would be preferable to a hand bound and illustrated edition costing, say, $35 (that may be too low–I would have no idea).

What do you think? Is the writing all that matters? Does the construction of the object (or the price you pay) influence the way you value the text?

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