Some musings on reading and books
Pamela Anderson, star of Stacked (a sitcom set in a bookstore), once shared a Paris Hilton anecdote. “She’s funny,” Pammie was quoted in GQ magazine. “Last time I met her we were in a restaurant together. She slammed the menu down and screamed, ‘I hate reading! Someone tell me what’s on the menu’!”
Oh, hi there! If you are new to my newsletter, I’m Gianni and I’m a compulsive reader and book lover. I’ve already mentioned my passion in an earlier post on idling, and the positive feedback I received encouraged me to write some more. I hope you will enjoy this post too. Feel free to comment.
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A friend of mine recently wrote in a witty blog post that having a book collection may hinder his chances of getting a job.
That reminded me of a book I read a few months ago. In Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, Paul Collins tells the story of how he left San Francisco to move to Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh town that is famous for being the "Town of Books" (it boasts 1,500 inhabitants and 40 antiquarian bookstores) (The book, by the way, is a lot of fun, especially if you are a book lover like me).
When Collins tries to sell his house in the US before moving to Wales, his real estate agent pays a visit to look around his flat.
"You have too many books in here. Home buyers don't like books."
He saw my expression, and shrugged helplessly. "Really. You should hide them."
Why should a well-stoked library be seen as an eyesore?
The same things happens in 5 Flights Up, a film telling the story of an older couple who decides to move and sell their apartment in New York. Their niece is their broker, and when she sees where they live, she declares:
“When you are trying to sell, you don’t want any crap: less is more. All the books gotta go away.”
Every time I read or hear these things, it makes me think: why do so many people hate books? Why do they see them as crap. Why should a well-stoked library be seen as an eyesore?
Even my lovely wife would gladly chuck my book collection. She says it takes up too much space. Considering the size of Japanese houses, she may have a point. And yet, I would rather lose a piece of my right little finger.
What are you saying? Not enough?
Always judge books by their covers
More than once I've caught myself caressing a book cover. Those raised and/or metallic lettering, the little details. At the risk of sounding like a pervert, I dare say I find them rather sensual.
Well yes, I'm a book fetishist, and I love touching and smelling paper. I like books as objects even before being fascinated by their content.
But apparently, it's not only that. Turns out there's a whole cover coding system, according to Paul Collins. In the above-mentioned Sixpence House he says:
There is an implicit code that customers rely on [when choosing a book]. If a book cover has raised lettering, metallic lettering, or raised metallic lettering, then it is telling the reader: Hello, I am an easy-to-read work on espionage, romance, a celebrity, and/or murder. To readers who do not care for such things, this lettering tells them: Hello. I am crap. Such books can only use glossy paper for the jacket; Serious Books can use glossy finish as well, but it is only Serious Books that are allowed to use matte finish.
On on and on, there's a lot of interesting things about different sizes, color, hardcover vs. paperback, and vertical vs. horizontal format. It's all exquisitely fascinating.
My two books have metallic, faintly raised lettering. Then again, they are guidebooks, so hopefully, Collins's golden rule of crappy books does not count.
On the topic of the "head shot of The Author," Collins says a lot of books feature the same kind of pose - "sitting still while looking pensive or smiling faintly into the indeterminate distance - the one pose that has no existence in the author's actual daily life."
The picture you see above, on the contrary, tells a lot about my actual daily life NOW. But I don't think any publisher is going to use it.
Also, Collins says that "If a color photo of the author occupies the entire front cover, the book is unequivocal crap."
Are books better than life?
In 1992 (the year I moved to Japan, by the way) French writer Daniel Pennac wrote a book about the pleasures of reading called Comme un roman (translated, depending on the English edition, as Better Than Life, Reads Like a Novel, and The Rights of the Reader.
The essay discusses why and how kids learn to detest reading in school and why most people don’t read any books after leaving university.
Among other things, the book features the Reader’s Bill of Rights to help kids (and even adults, I would say) perceive reading as a pleasure and not as a chore. Here it goes:
The right not to read.
The right to skip pages.
The right to not finish.
The right to re-read.
The right to read anything.
The right to escapism.
The right to read anywhere.
The right to browse.
The right to read out loud.
The right to not defend your taste.
Isn’t it wonderful?
How about you? Are you that kind of reader?
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In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite tunes.