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Bibliomania 101: Sailing toward Bankruptcy

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Book collecting—and I’m not talking about first editions— is an expensive hobby, more expensive with each passing year. The price of books has risen drastically over the years. What was once the price of a hardcover is now the price of a paperback, and what used to be the price of a trade paperback is now the price of a mass-market one.

And that’s only trade books (the ones that get on the bestseller lists and make the tables at Barnes & Noble or the home page at Amazon. I usually buy academic books, and the prices for those are stratospheric. Hardcovers from Oxford or Cambridge often go for more than a hundred dollars; paperbacks from the university presses or a specialty publisher like Eerdmans seem to start at fifty. (Okay, $49.95. I’m not fooled.) I understand the exigencies of academic publishing; I’ve worked for a university press. Personnel, paper, and manufacturing costs go up while library budgets go down. In order to break even, prices have to be high. What’s really galling, are the high prices for academic e-books. Take one of the books in the post above, Daphne Hampson’s Christian Contradictions, published by Cambridge University Press: the hardcover retails for $104.00, the paperback for $43.00, and $34.00 for a zero-manufacturing-cost PDF!  I try really hard to be understanding, but my bibliomaniac’s heart quails.

Yes, sometimes I do pony up the $49.95, or wait for a birthday or Christmas to let someone else do it. If I’m really lucky, I’ll snag a half-price copy at a used-book store. I don’t have access to a university library or hundreds of dollars lying around to get it. At the public library, most academic books don’t circulate. If you want to read them, you have to sit in the library for as long as it takes.(Yes, I have done this.) Inter-library loan is slow and troublesome. My only hope is that the public library will digitize everything and make it all available to cardholders. Not that the publishers are likely to let them.

I’m a law-abiding fellow. I don’t litter or play loud radios on the subway or remove the Do Not Remove tags from pillows. But these days I have a certain sympathy for pirates.


Written by hans castorp

August 23, 2013 at 9:07 am

Posted in Bibliomania

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Bibliomania 101: The Scattershot Reader

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There must be some people out there who read books straight through, one at a time. I’m not one of them. At the moment I’ve got these books going:

  • Allen Nevins, The Ordeal of the  Union, volume 2
  • Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume 1 part 2
  • Balzac, The Ball at Sceaux 
  • Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions
  • Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit (This is my second attempt. I’m barely into it.)
  • Zechariah Sitchen, The Twelfth Planet (I hate to admit I’m reading this one, but I have an almost bottomless appetite for wacko stuff.)
  • Joseph Farrell, The Nazi International (Ditto.)
  • Daphne Hampson, Christian Contradictions

Now, I’m not saying this to brag about my intellectual ambitions or how much I read—at least not entirely. No, I mean it as a self rebuke. Of these seven, how many will languish at various stages of reading? How many will I persevere with, and how many will be pushed out by some new temporary enthusiasm? I have another, longer list of books that haven’t looked at for months, yet haven’t given up on. The trouble with this is that, if it’s fiction, I have to skim through to refresh my memory of what’s going on. If it’s demanding nonfiction, I sometimes have to start from the beginning to try and puzzle it out. There’s one book of German philosophy (no, not Hegel) that I’ve begun at least three times, only to bog down a chapter or two farther than when I last picked it up.

Every New Year’s Day I resolve to reform my reading habits, to stop acquiring books until I’m through with the bunch I’m reading now (plus the ones I got for Christmas). But long about the middle of January, some new title beckons. Oh, I tell myself I’ll just slip that in and then go back to my current list, but rarely happens; one or two or three or four titles slide into forgetfulness as I surrender to the seductions of publishers’ catalogs and internet reviews.

One of the consequences of my inconstancy is a sore point in my marriage. Mrs. C thinks we have at least twice as many books as we need, and frequently tells me that if we have to move, I’ll have to get rid of half the library. (The very thought gives me the vapors.) Lucky for our marriage (and for the apartment) that our budget is limited.

Written by hans castorp

August 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Bibliomania, Books

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