Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Sticking it to books

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Sticking it to books

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where was that book? I was sure I had it on the shelf, but now, when I want to read it again, I can’t find it. (The book was “Had Slaves,” a beautiful, powerful collection of poems by Catherine Sasanov written after her discovery that her family, three generations ago, had owned other human beings.)

Well, I’ll order up a used copy from Amazon...hmmm...”very good condition.” Ok. Click

So imagine my horror when I opened the package and found this lovely book with a sticker marring its very good condition. The sticker said, “Sell me back” and had the name of the book reseller I had bought it from. Ok, I’ll just peel the label off...but no. This was stuck on with world-class adhesive. Supersonic jumbo jets could be held together with this adhesive. When I finally managed to remove a little edge, the spot remained sticky. So just forget about putting it on the shelf, unless I wanted Sasanov to be permanently attached to Schor.

In horror I sent an e-mail to Donovan, the head of the company that sold the book and got a note back saying that most of their business was in books for college students who “typically do not have any intention of keeping a book.”

I’ll leave aside the thought that “Had Slaves” would be a book one would want to get rid of. This wasn’t “Introduction to Organic Chemistry” after all. I’m going for the bigger picture here, the total disconnect between the people who sell back their books as soon as they no longer “need” them and those of us who add and add and add books to our shelves. Since I’ve had my Kindle I’ve given more thought to this--which books do I simply want to read and which do I want to own?

Ownership of type on a screen does feel fundamentally different from ownership of a bound set of pages. And I’m guessing that the prevalence of e-books changes our relationship to the physical object called “book.”

Donovan, whose company stuck the sticker on “Had Slaves,” thanked me for my note and said they were checking to see if their supplier could find stickers that could peel off easily. That made me feel better. Until I realized that he had said stickers that “peal off.” Was that like crossing his fingers behind his back, or in this case, his screen? If so, I hope he doesn’t have any of my books.

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