MaxBarry.com
fear my vigilantes

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 15
Jan
2013

Book Sadist

Writing I was in a bookstore recently and there was a boy, about 10, who wanted a book. His dad was not sure he should have the book. The issue wasn’t the book itself; the book was fine. The issue was that the book was #3 in a series, and Dad established that the boy had borrowed the first two from a library.

“Why don’t you borrow this one from the library and I’ll buy you a different book?” he said.

The boy mumbled something I didn’t catch but I’m guessing was some variation of, “I want this book.”

I figured that Dad was seeing the book as an object, and feeling it would be wrong to have book #3 sitting on the shelf without #1 and #2. The boy was seeing the book as a story he wanted to get into his head. He had already loaded books #1 and #2 into his head and he didn’t much care how #3 got there.

E-books have made a lot of people think about whether they want books or stories. Because you can get stories cheaply and efficiently in e-book form, but you can’t put them on your bookshelf. You can’t gaze lovingly over your collection, or hold them in your hands and feel the paper speak to you.

Really, though, it’s only the latest manifestation of an old dilemma. There have always been people who have treated books with reverence, laminating their covers, turning their pages with care, and never cracking their spines. And there have been people like me.

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis. Book is in several pieces

Poor abused hardcover of Lord of the Rings with ripped pages coming away from the book spine

I don’t set out to destroy my favorite books. They just wind up that way. And while I have no problem with people who take care of their books, I have to admit I don’t quite get it. Sometimes people bring me a book to be signed and they apologize because the book is dog-eared and crumpled. I love seeing that. Those books have been loved. Hard.

P.S. The boy got his book. I saw him walking out with it.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Yannick (#3858)

Location: Heist, Belgium
Quote: "he reads things"
Posted: 558 days ago

My books also tend to crumple up and get covered in those tiny black specks that somehow merge INTO the paper and won't come off no matter what.
My Mom sometimes tells me off when see sees the state of one of such books, and tells me I ought to respect my stuff more. Now I can finally show her this webpage and triumphantly claim: "SEE! Even the author prefers it this way!".

In a way, the less you respect the book as a medium, the more you respect its content. Which is weird, when you think about it.

Jak (#2464)

Quote: "The Straight-Jacket makes it hard to type."
Posted: 558 days ago

What does it mean when your e-reader is all nicked, dented, and dinged up?

Machine Man subscriber Katie Ellert (#207)

Location: Calgary AB Canada
Quote: "Where's Lola? WHERE'S LOLA?!?!"
Posted: 558 days ago

I tend to destroy my books and (if they are super trashed) I'll pick up a second copy for my bookshelf

Brittany O. (#1688)

Location: Montana
Quote: "My love calls me Boom..."
Posted: 558 days ago

My books are a little of both. I love those post it tabs. I tend to write all over my books but they are well loved. Glad he got his book.
On a side note I know I read your post about the Lex cover but I think when I read it I was not aware which were which. Damn UK cover as it reminds me of j.gov and that book is what got me hooked on you...

Chris (#6002)

Location: Canada
Posted: 558 days ago

"Because you can get stories cheaply and efficiently in e-book form, but you can’t put them on your bookshelf. You can’t gaze lovingly over your collection, or hold them in your hands and feel the paper speak to you."

While I was teaching in Korea, the abhorrent price of printed English literature there forced e-books upon me out of financial necessity... The minute I got home I revelled in being able to hold actual paper again, and like you said: gaze lovingly over my collection. You just don't have that same connection to your books when they sit on a digital bookcase.

(And while I hate people who dog-ear pages [use a bookmark! :P], there's no electronic parellel to thumbing through a real book :D)

Arkam Asylum (#6219)

Location: Gotham City
Quote: "I'm Batman."
Posted: 558 days ago

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, I'm part of Mordor on NationStates. Can you let me change my name because Arkam Asylum is spelled wrong and I'm getting a lot of haters.

Lynne D Perry (#5100)

Location: Penfield, New York
Quote: "Resistance to Linux is futile. You *will* be assimilated."
Posted: 558 days ago

You know, there are so many levels of "want" to this. I would love to have a consistent BluRay series of several series, some of which I actually have split collections between VHS tapes, DVD's, AND BluRay. But the bottom line is I'll buy whatever I have to buy to follow the series. On the other hand, I have a Readers Digest "Best Loved Books" hard copy volume set my Mom bought for me as a young teen. I loved that set. Somewhere along the line a few decades ago, I lost Volume 8. I searched for years for it. A few weeks ago, I found it on eBay! I was hoping it was actually MY volume, but it wasn't. But the satisfaction I got out of filling in that gap is indescribable. And it was my favorite volume, with "Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of HuckleBerry Finn". I can't wait to settle down to read Huck's adventures again. I also have all of Max's books in hard copy, and that's a collection I intend to keep adding to as well. (Max, that's a hint)

Susan Malter (#6209)

Location: Chicago
Quote: "Forbidding sex with ghosts in the bible is like putting recipes for bombs on the internet."
Posted: 558 days ago

Yes, I do! May I start by saying that I like being personally asked whether I would like to leave a message. I have the vague sense that this is automated, but that only tells me that the automated system has been expecting me and looks forward to my contribution. Thank you!

I never thought that I would enjoy an e-reader, because I love the feeling of books and I love my old books. I write comments to the authors and to myself when I read. Being a book lover, however, can be a messy business. I am not organized enough to maintain a bookshelf tidily with my books, because I pull them out all the time.

Well, I was given a Kindle as a gift, and I cannot get over my joy. Once I discovered how to enter my notes and thoughts, I was beside myself. Well, I do miss paper, but I think that this is the narcissist in me. On paper, I see my own marks on a book. In the kindle editions, the books stay pristine as if Susan had never been there.

Thank you for asking.

Karan (#1376)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Quid Quid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Viditur - Anything said in Latin sounds important"
Posted: 558 days ago

You should see the e-book entitlement that's set in - not sure if you've heard of the recent controversy over the release of <em>A Memory of Light</em>, the final book in the 14 volume epic by the (now deceased) Robert Jordan. Jordan's widow chose to delay the release of the e-book in favour of just the hardcover - this has blown up into many, many people criticising her and the publisher for being greedy, betraying the fans, all manner of things... all because the e-book is delayed by 3 months. Over on Amazon, there's as many 1 star reviews as 5 star reviews from people "protesting" the lack of an ebook... as a reader (and destroyer) of paperbacks, I'm mystified by the fact that these people can be so up in arms about something as simple as a book being published in hardcover, for a series some have been following for decades! People suck.

Machine Man subscriber gStein (#585)

Location: 127.0.0.1
Quote: "That's not change! That's more of the same!"
Posted: 558 days ago

All but 1 of my books are in hard copy, mostly from price - I just can't justify spending $9.99 (or more) on an e-book when i can buy most of what i want second hand for $1.
Granted, I bought all of my Harry Potter books new, (the first 3 originally in paperback, then repurchased in hardcover once the paperbacks were destroyed), and same with Max's books (just need Machine Man in hard cover).

I finally got a tablet over Christmas, and my first e-book purchase was George Takei's Oh Myyy - I just can't get used to the strange white glow of the "paper" (it's an android, so there's probably some way to change the white paper to a more yellowed/parchment color.)

@Lynne - I know how that is, I bought the first 6 Harry Potter films on DVD, then the last 2 on Bluray - i had to repurchase the first 6 on bluray (fortunately i managed to get them for $4 each on black Friday)

Johz (#4719)

Location: Birmingham (In the Good Ol' UK)
Quote: "So Quoth Me"
Posted: 558 days ago

I know that feeling, I'm always destroying books. My worst tactic is to leave them open, pages down, with the spine bent open. This isn't usually too bad, as the next time I leave the book like that, I'll be on a different page. The issue is when I get bored and move to another book, or go away and forget that I was reading it, and it ends up lying on the floor for months, until someone treads on it, or drops something on it, and bends the spine back completely. I have so many books that are so difficult to read because you're fighting the very pages of the book, who want to open at a certain page, while you're interested in something completely different. Gah!

Which is why I tend to buy second-hand books, these days. It severely limits your options, because it's not everywhere you find a (cheap) second-hand bookshop, and even when you do, they don't usually have particularly large selections. But then that forces you to find new books and authors, which is pretty good.

Machine Man subscriber coolpillows (#3749)

Location: new york general sort of vicinity
Quote: ""It's not working" -- Joseph Clark"
Posted: 558 days ago

Please tell me the series wasn't "Captain Underpants."

All good points Max & Commenters. My thing about e-readers, and I only have the iPad, is that I can't focus b/c the damn thing in my hand has so many purposes. So I no longer even try to read good long books in digital form. As far as Kindle & the rest of them, since I don't have one I can't speak for them, but I feel like I'm buying a device that has been intentionally 'crippled' so why bother buying it.

And why do they call them 'readers?' They're not reading for us...or are they??? (cue mysterious music)

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 558 days ago

If e-books were sufficiently cheap compared to paperbacks I'd consider buying them, but they're not (or at least not when I last checked). If I can get a real object for just a few bucks more, all the better.
There is something about handling a real book though. And I am one of those people that treats (their) books with reverence -- if by reverence you mean read it once and then store it on a bookshelf in nigh-pristine condition. I suppose it might make more sense to sell them and buy new stories, but luckily I'm human and making sense is only optional and not expected or required.

Fractelle (#2998)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posted: 558 days ago

Seeing Max's copy of Lord of the Rings resonated with me. Even though I am careful with books, my copy of LOTR dates back many years (1968) and has been taped up many times. I did purchase a snappy looking set in a natty cardboard pack, but found I couldn't part with the old LOTR. Each page is well remembered, there is even a page where a fault in the paper left a few holes (in the final: Return of the King), just touching this book evokes a lifetime.

I believe there is a place for both tree and e-books. E-books being a great way to catch up on books such as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, but the tactile 3D experience of paper remains evocative for me. I expect there will be a time when a generation of readers who never reach up to a shelf and instead check the batteries on their tablets, will see tree-books as quaint anachronisms.

So it goes... with special thanks to Kurt Vonnegut, another author whose books have stood the test of time.

Machine Man subscriber Ben (#3924)

Location: Alberta, Canada
Quote: "I don't wanna ride the elevator."
Posted: 557 days ago

Reading through some of the comments I see people saying things like, "the less you respect the book as a medium, the more you respect its content". I understand the point but disagree. The more I like/respect a book, the more I try to take care of it so I can read it many times. The problem is, the more I like a book, the more I do not like putting it down. They tend to get dropped in bathtubs, slept on, and otherwise abused for the reason I love the story. I respect the book for conveying it but ultimately I can get another.

I question whether we should rethink this throwaway culture. Our respect for the story should encourage our respect for the medium. If we want to show them off on the shelf and never read them, but take care of them for show; fine. Yet in the end, sometimes a hard to put down story just gets damaged because its hard to put down.

Machine Man subscriber tim (#3234)

Location: chattanooga, TN, USA
Quote: """
Posted: 556 days ago

I received a hand writted letter in an unmarked envelope this morning. I was initially terrified that it was a suicide note (or maybe a treasure map). Fortnuately, it was from a retirement aged Director of Sales at my company who thinks ink on paper adds a personal touch to a communication.
I will admit that there is something about ink on actual paper in an envelope that makes it harder to discard without reading, especially when the sender doesn't fill out the 'from' section of the envelope. How do I 'create a rule' on something like that? I can't just throw away all future blank envelopes and risk missing out on a treasure map.

How many times did you read the Queen's Gambit? Sheesh, looks like you mauled the thing. I read it and liked it but, wow, you'd think it was Syrup or something. :)

Jason Bender (#3410)

Location: Fountain, Colorado
Quote: ""The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." - Caius Cassius"
Posted: 398 days ago

Your copy of LOTR looks beautiful Max, wish I could see what the maps look like, from the small glimpse in the pic, they look absolutely exquisite. I perhaps have unnaturally ecstatic reactions when it comes to maps, especially Middle Earth maps. :D

Can't wait to check out Company and Lexicon, your books are ridiculously hard to find outside of the big-time book stores. You should see my copy of Jennifer Government, it's starting to look like your copy of LOTR. :P

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