The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

Literary Collywobbles and Readerish Bits: Books Too Pretty to Read

on February 27, 2013

So, I have this book. It didn’t cost a lot of money; its not particularly old, or valuable, or fragile. I don’t even know for sure that I’m the one that bought it – it’s entirely possible that it’s one of the few my husband brought along that manage to survive the Great Move-In Cull of 20-whatever it was. Some of you (probably a lot of you, lets not lie) may even have the same book. Ready to know what it is?

arabian nightsThis is the leather-bound, gilt-edged, ribbon-bookmarked Barnes and Noble volume of The Arabian Nights translated, as you can probably read, by Sir Richard Burton. And it is even more beautiful in person – those lighter blues and golds are inlaid, and it just feels…weighty to hold. And I’ve wanted to read the collection for quite some time – I’ve heard The Arabian Nights described by some professors as the ultimate book about books, the grand ode to stories – but here’s the kicker. I never have. Every time I get the urge to read the book, I sit down, pull this lovely, weighty volume onto my lap and… that’s it. It just can’t seem to get in to reading from the leatherback collection. And this isn’t the only book it happens with. We have some really lovely editions (also leather bound from Barnes and Noble) of Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury(!!), the Little House books, even The Divine Comedy. And I haven’t read a one. And neither has my husband. And it’s not from lack of want – but then why!

I think I figured it out. And I really did spend quite a bit of time thinking about it recently (since I had to do some major book rearranging in order to get some long-stored favorites out of the back closet), and I’ve come to the conclusion that some books are just too nice to read. I realize that this isn’t exactly new news for a lot of people. There are, of course, people out there who collect some of the nicest volumes on Earth just to stick them on a shelf to look at because they’re too valuable and/or too fragile to interact with the common world. But part of me doesn’t wonder if that’s a bit wrong?

ray bradbury

Books are meant to be read, in the ways that plays are meant to be seen and music is meant to be heard. And I, really, don’t care if you have someone read your book to you on a CD, read it in a pixelated form on a tiny screen, or lug thousands of dead trees around with you from apartment to apartment. It’s the story and the reading that matter. But when we take books and make them non-functional art, we begin to do them a disservice. The beautiful blue edition that made my husband and I salivate isn’t actually doing me any good by just sitting there on the bottom of a stack of other leather bound volumes I’ve never read. But then part of me thinks that, maybe just maybe, the book is the point. Owning it. Having it as an option to read. After all, an unread book is still a favorite potential book, right? But if the book isn’t conducive to ever getting around to reading – is it worth having just because it’s pretty and fun to run my hands over and look at the pictures of? If I’d be more like to read the $1.00 paperback version I saw at a used bookshop, does that make it more valuable than the $20.00 volume I now own?

I don’t have any answers. I’d love to know what you think – if you own any books that are just to pretty (or old? or valuable? or that you’re just too protective over) to sit down with and really read – or if maybe I’m just thinking too hard, in this time of limited funds, about the books I spent money on that I haven’t read yet. Guilty as charged.

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