One of my cousins once worked in book manufacturing. I remember him talking about the release of a picture book by Madonna. This was years ago; the book may have been her controversial Sex. “The workmanship in this book, you gotta see,” my cousin said. “Of course, inside it’s all fuckin’ pornography.”

I was thinking about this when a friend showed me the art books she made in a book-making class. They’re shown above.

These days a lot of people are talking about the loss of “real” books. By that I assume they mean books as paper objects, as opposed to digital ebooks. 

Yeah—I get it. Some books are beautifully made, but most aren’t these days. Even hardcovers are not made with stitching, the way my friend learned to make them in her art class. Most books—the kind I like to read—are cheaply made with poorly designed covers, newsprint paper, and glue. But that’s okay. I don’t want them for their intrinsic value but for the stories inside them. 

I do think we are headed toward the age of the physical-book-as-a-collectible. You go to a reading by an author you like and you buy the book. Or you meet them at a con and you want a memento. These days, if I read an ebook that I like, I try to get a copy signed by the author.

But I predict I’ll eventually curtail even that instinct. The books I buy as collectibles end up sitting on my special shelf with other collectible books. Some are in plastic, most aren’t. I never touch them, I never engage with them, and I’ll certainly never read them. Most I ever do is take them down to show someone who shares an interest in a particular author: “Look—Ellroy touched this!”

In the last decade I’ve probably moved about 5 times, twice internationally. Each time, shipping books was my biggest expense. They were more numerous, costlier and heavier, pound for pound, than any other object I owned. 

You understand I’m saying? I’m a writer and I look forward to divesting myself of the “real” books in my life.

I read once that the only reason we hang onto books is that they are a way of broadcasting our identities. This is who I am. Look upon my books, and know me better, man!

It’s a way of announcing our egos. I don’t want to sound too spacey, but isn’t that an instinct we ought to try to get over? I think so.