The paperback and the hardcover.

Is it really worth shelling out for a hardback? At nearly double the price I find it hard to understand why anyone would opt for one.

I believe the most common reasoning behind purchasing a hardback (assuming that the paperback is available and this is an option) is the belief that ‘it makes a nice gift’. And indeed it does; its size and weight give it a certain sense of bookish importance. The inside cover page of a hardback also lends itself rather nicely to being a canvas for an author’s signature.

However, all this fails to counter the fact that once the hardback has fulfilled its role as a gift, it will then return to being a mere book, and must be read as such. And as an artefact intended for reading it is rather less user-friendly.

I hate reading a hardback. Whereas they sit very neatly on bookshelves and bedside tables, they don’t seem to like being opened. Back in the day when they had flexible sewn spines they would elegantly lie on a flat surface, be it your lap or your desk, on the page where they were left. Not so anymore. Should you attempt to leave your modern glue-spined book open it will most likely aggressively snap itself shut and you will have lost your place, maybe even your nose.

Out of the house they behave even worse. Most handbags won’t accommodate them. Trying to read a space-hogging hardback on the tube is considered only marginally less anti-social than tucking into a particularly malodorous MacDonald’s.

I concur.  No surprise there.  The best bits are in the comments:

Hardback books, to me, mean punishment for wanting to read a book as soon as it comes out: being roundly humiliated for your geekery by having to lug around an unstowable, unreadable, heavy, horrendously expensive white elephant that you end up resenting slightly before you even get to open it. Last time I submitted meself to such indignity was for Against the Day, which’d be beefy enough in paperback and was completely unmanageable in hard. I ended up wanting to drop it from a great height onto Mr Pynchon’s stupid greedy buck-toothed head, but completely flummoxed by the physics-related problems of getting the bloody thing up the stairs first.


Personally I reckon all books should be no larger than a Penguin cheapo pocket classic (the ones with the manky weewee-yellow covers and terrible cover design) and no thicker pagewise than, say The Secret Agent. That way I can reasonably hide them in my pocket whilst walking the length of the office for a suspicoiusly long mid-afternoon poo. How, pray, am I supposed to finish Underworld without dismembering it into easily-smuggled sections?

To you, sir, I recommend One Story.  Until my subscription runs out (no renewal for me; forthcoming infant needs a new pair of skivvies) I will tote around each issue in my back pocket until read.  Considering how much coffee I’m drinking, that doesn’t take long.


3 Replies to “The paperback and the hardcover.”

  1. Matthew,

    In general, I agree that there’s no point to a “perfect” bound paperback that’s got hard covers and costs $10 more than the trade paperback will. But some publishers (McSweeney’s is the only one I can think of right now) do still produce good looking, sewn hardcover books. Check out the hardcover of Icelander for a great example, and a great book.



  2. Yeah, I realized after that post – with little added comment – that I should have included a caveat about McSweeney’s. Their Stephen Dixon books are another prime example, and even though The Children’s Hospital is huge, it was excellent to the point of (mostly) making me forget about the carpal tunnel I was getting from holding it upright. Melville House also made a nice hardcover out of Old Friends.

  3. and YET — authors make more money off of hardcovers, and many places won’t review books that don’t come out in hardcover. isn’t that weird? i agree with you — hardcovers are pretty inconvenient, especially if you do a lot of your reading on the subway…

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