An American Editor

February 23, 2010

On Today’s Bookshelf (II)

Since my last listing of recently bought books, I’ve added a few and read a few. For example, I bought in hardcover and read Robin Hobb’s Dragon Keeper, the first book in a new fantasy series, and Lawrence Watt-Evans’ A Young Man Without Magic, also the first in a new fantasy series, both of which I enjoyed. I also read several ebooks, including Randolph Lalonde’s First Light Chronicles: Omnibus, Patrick Welch’s Brendell: Apprentice Thief, Wendy Palmer’s The Frog Prince’s Daughters, and Frances Evlin’s The Eternal Trees of Prand, to name a few, which were also enjoyable although several suffered from poor editing (e.g., misuse of compliment and complement, misspellings such as court marshal for court-martial).

But fiction is not where I spend the bulk of my book money. For fiction, with exceptions for certain authors, of which Hobb and Watt-Evans are examples, I usually buy ebooks rather than hardcovers, and because of various publisher- and ebookseller-imposed restrictions, I tend to limit my fiction purchases to ebooks without DRM and that cost me less than $5. Primary, although not sole, reasons why I do not buy nonfiction in electronic form are the lack of universal DRM and good formatting (I’d like, for example, a table to look like a table, to be able to access footnotes, to view an illustration in its proper place). I want to know that what I buy today I can read next year or 5 years from now; not that I must rush to read a purchase for fear that it will be unreadable on my next reading device.

I know that I can strip out the DRM, but I don’t want to do so; I shouldn’t have to take those extra steps to enjoy a purchase. And because of the uncertainty that DRM gives about future access to ebooks, and because I buy so many more nonfiction books than I can read in the near term, I buy nonfiction in hardcover only. (Plus I get the aesthetic pleasure of being able to look at bookshelves filled with knowledge and get to recall what a “real” book feels like.)

So nonfiction is where I spend most of my book money. My thinking goes somewhat like this: If I want the book to be a permanent part of my library, then I’ll spend the money and buy it in hardcover.

In the past 2 weeks, I purchased these hardcover additions to my to-read pile:

  • The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making by Adrian Johns
  • The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer (I previously bought and read her excellent The History of the Ancient World)
  • For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus by Frederick Brown
  • Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade, edited by Oleg Grabbar and Benjamin Z. Kedar
  • The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories

Okay, the last two aren’t really for my to-read list; they are for occasionally picking up and learning about words and phrases. I have a number of similar books in my reference library. One of the “oddest” — and I put oddest in quotes because I do not mean it negatively — is a 20-year-old book called Reader’s Digest Illustrated Reverse Dictionary. I remember buying it because I wondered what made a dictionary a “reverse” dictionary and also wondered how useful it would be to me.

With all that has been happening in the Age of eBooks, sometimes it is nice to pickup a printed book and glory in the tactile experience. As much as I like ebooks, I do find ebooks a “colder” reading (i.e., tactile) experience; I grew up experiencing a combined tactile, visual, and intellectual experience when reading a book. Which leads me to the this: I plan to put The Nature of the Book at the top of the to-read list.

Before closing for the day, I do want to comment on Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade (2010). I first read about this book in a New York Times article about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Jerusalem. The book is a collection of essays written by Jews, Muslims, and Christians about the importance of the Temple Mount in each religion and culture. The book is resplendent with photographs. The content gives is a fascinating view of the convergence of religions and cultures from three distinct perspectives.

But at a $75 list price, why did the University of Texas Press choose to wrap such impressive content in such a poor, cheaply constructed and cheap looking hardcover binding — the kind of binding one sees on some coursebooks and print-on-demand books? This book deserves a quality binding and a quality dust jacket; it is a book that belongs on many home library shelves. Sometimes I wonder what publisher thinking processes are like.

Having said that, I still recommend the book to anyone interested in the history, culture, and views of the peoples and three major religions that converge on a single spot on this planet, a spot that belongs to all and to none.


Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: