June 19, 2013
Some books get read, but many don't; when I had a set of Herbert Spencer for sale, I noted that it was probably bound in the early 20th century, and never read through about 4 generations of the family that owned it. How do I know? It was printed in octavo (Wikipedia explains this better than I) which means that each sheet of paper that gets run through the press has 8 pages on a side (so 16 when you count both sides). You fold the sheet 3 times the right way, then get a bunch of them-they are called "gatherings" or "signatures"-together and sew them up into a text block which then gets bound. Here is the thing about folding up that big sheet: when you have done that, and you can try it yourself, you end up with two folds that need to be cut, or "opened," on the fore edge of the last 4 sheets of each gathering. In this set of 18 volumes (I only had 17), not a single gathering had the fore edges opened. So the first owner had it for the right reason. The books looked good on the shelf. You didn't need or want to read them; they were there for decoration. O.K. by me; there is a good market for fine bindings, and you can poke around ABE or other sites and find sets with high prices.
There are other ways to use books, and I try to collect examples. Here are a couple from a catalogue of women's clothing and accessories, and I couldn't resist. It used to be that sex sells, but in this case it's the books that sell the other stuff. Incidentally, you might recognize the book under the shoe. Peter Bamm was the pen name for Curt Emmrich, a German physician and journalist who served as a surgeon on the Russian front in World War II. I have a copy at home; Die Unsichtbare Flagge took about 3 readings because of my mediocre German comprehension. Don't worry; it improved as I persevered.
This photo is from the same catalogue, and it looks good. I hope they sold some shoes and dresses. Ah! There it is; Fossil! Don't you like the horizontals of the books setting off the legs? What would you rather look at? Not the books, that's for sure. Now to get out of the corner into which I have painted myself. Books that look good, or books that make other things look good? I guess you can do anything you want with them. Just go out and buy some. Books, I mean.