With a price tag that even Shakespeare could get on board with in the modern age, as seen by the forty-five cent price tag on the cover, my copy of Four Tragedies by William Shakespeare remains a staple of my book collection.
While my book collection is comfortably nestled in a tote at the bottom of my closet for most of the year, it is during rare occasions like these that a classic novel in its physical form gets to see the light of day. The first thing I notice is the overwhelming smell of women’s perfume and library basement that is engraved in every single page of the collection. Visually expressing the multiple years of shelf life since 1961 publication, a clear gradient of light beige to dark tan also stems from the center of each page. The pages remain smooth, however, similar to how Shakespeare’s words remain prevalent today no matter how long they have aged. Keeping the pages safe is a cover that clings to the spine like person hanging from the edge of a cliff – the grip weakens with time, warning of an impending and sudden release.
Despite the foreboding doom and deterioration of the front cover, the book retains novelty and antique qualities that keep the collection a special piece of living art. The thin cover of the book is smooth but embedded within the surface are the grains of paper that has been processed by mechanics forgotten by modern publishers. The cover is simplistic, with only patterns and black outlines, an artistic choice that is often abandoned in a new generation of books that use photography or famous works instead. Printed in small text on the front cover is a price tag specific to the book and in an even smaller font on the back-left corner are the words “PRINTED IN U.S.A.”
Tempted to open the book out of the admiration of the work, I risk splitting the book in two, as most pages will not willingly remain open. The one page that does appear to open willingly, continues to form a compromising scar along the spine. The benefits outweigh the novelty in an age filled with with eBooks, however. In Amaranth’s “The Book,” the author notes that “certain modes of expression…gain prominence ” and that in some cases a new form “supersedes the one that preceded it” (1). While there was a thriving time of the press, where books had a lot of character and did not just feel like a stock item at the convenient store, the time has passed. Even I find myself leaving my books hidden away for longer periods of time. Due to my frequent travelling between dorms and family in recent years, I have found myself cutting back on my novel collection, keeping only favorites or special copies in my reserves and depending on eBooks for the rest.
The books that remain in my collection remind me of the important roles of books have played in my life. As readers, we must remember books for what they have meant to us and to others in the past, making sure to never overlook the rich character hiding behind the cover.
“The Book as Object.” The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk, The MIT Press, 2018.