How Paperbacks Kick Hardcovers’ Ass

hardcovers vs paperbacks

“Time to move out of the apartment. Who’s got the forklift?”

Why do hardcover books generally cost more than paperbacks? Yeah yeah, I get that they’re more expensive to print and all that, but still. On a practical level, you’d think it should be the other way around. Because is it me or are hardcover books a royal pain in the ass? A total bummer to deal with from start to finish!

I mean, it makes sense that they should cost more, but only for narcissists who want everyone else to know what they’re reading, who they’re reading, or even simply that they’re reading. A nice big hardcover book in your bookshelf can draw plenty of attention from your dinner guests. “Ah!” they’ll say. “You’ve read Moby Dick eh? What a bright lad you are! I approve of you courting my daughter!”

You know who you are, narcissists! You buy all the smart-sounding books in massive, monumental hardcover editions, even as you buy “12 Shades of Grey” in recycled paperback and then try to hide it at the upper-left corner of your bookshelf. For you, Kindle eBooks aren’t even an option. If you’re going to read a book, it damn well better have a physical body—even if it’s only “12 Shades of Grey” or “Star Wars: Jedi Academy”—because at the very least it’ll add to the glorious mass of your cherished book collection. You want your dinner guests to step into your living room and behold a massive, dusty, glorious library of canted volumes.

You’re not too worried anybody’s gonna see the Dan Brown or the Dean Koontz. Those’re out of sight on the bottom shelf. But what’s occupying all the prime real-estate on your bookshelf? A gold-trimmed collection of Edgar Allen Poe (Barnes and Noble discount edition!), that’s what.

I used to be a bit like this, I admit it. I think this is probably a thing, to some degree, for any avid reader. We tend to think of read-books as trophies awarding us with smart points. We want others to see.

But let me tell you. After my somewhat recent series of moves, I’ve come to prefer my Kindle over traditional paper-bound books in the same way I prefer Netflix to actually buying all of those same movies. Books and dvd cases pile up pretty damn fast, and then they’re just another complication to your eventual exodus. Plus, where does it end? I’m not a homeowner—maybe if I was it would be different, because then I’d sort of have a stable base of operations in which to cache all my crap. But when you’re a hopscotch renter you learn pretty early on that you best not keep accumulating content for your apartment. Soon you’ll be sort buried, and then you discover that the cliche is true: the things you own end up owning you.

Screw it, I say. Screw people knowing what I’m reading anyway. Do I really want them knowing I’m reading “Assorted Adventures of Conan The Barbarian?” Not particularly. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’d have to discover the secret to superluminal flight for people to start thinking I’m smart anyway, so why bother playing Gentleman Scholar? I will surreptitiously make myself smarter by way of Kindle. I don’t have dinner parties anyway, so what the hell am I even talking about?

No way I’m gonna pay more money for a hardcover when, really, it should be the one paying me. After all, it’s going to live in my apartment, take up space, complicate my future moves. A crappy little softcover—or Kindle—would do this to a much lesser degree. Therefore, from my humble POV, it would seem to make sense that I should pay more for the softcover/e-book than I would for the bulky, clunky hardcover that’s going to haunt me for years to come. They should be giving those away, not charging more for em!

kindle vs hardcovers

Kindle is the lightsaber of reading. Much more civilized.

But clutter-avoidance is only part of the reason I think softcovers/e-books have more value than hardcovers. The other thing is that hardcovers generally suck to physically read. You sit there in your reading chair constantly shifting and twisting and craning your neck, all in a losing battle to read that heavy-ass leather-bound Barnes and Noble “Great Expectations” in relative comfort. Keep dreaming. Reading a hardcover book is like being handed an overfed human baby. At first it’s a pleasant experience, but pretty soon your leg’s going numb and your arm muscles are sore and you just want that baby to go away.

A paperback isn’t so heavy as to put any stress on your forearms or elbows. Often, you can hold the thing with one hand, freeing your other hand for your corncob pipe. Same thing goes for Kindle. No numb legs. No squashed genitals. Achievement unlocked: 25 smart points!

Then the question becomes: paperback or Kindle? With a paperback, you still still get your coveted book-mummy after you’re done reading. With Kindle you get no bonus smart points (unless you weirdly encourage your friends to leaf through your Kindle library). I’m gonna still go with Kindle here, because I’m really making it a point in my life to downsize as much as possible. But I won’t make fun of you if you go with a paperback.

Anything’s better than massive, Neverending Story-esque hardcover books. You’ll see what I mean next time your landlord gives you two weeks to vacate the premises.

How bout you, Reader? What is your preferred way of reading? Paperback? Kindle? Online? Let’s have it…

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6 Responses to How Paperbacks Kick Hardcovers’ Ass

  1. wiseplagueis says:

    I’ve converted to Kindle too. All my ‘real book’ friends look at me like I’ve turned to the Dark Side and killed all the Jedi.

  2. Okay, so where to begin? First of all, I rarely ever buy books. I get them all from the library where they then sit, cluttering my coffee table until they need to be returned, so if anyone doubts I am an avid reader, they needn’t look any further. Also, when I do select library books I actually prefer hardcover because they seem easier to handle. With paperbacks I alway have to scrunch them up to read off the side of the page.

    • Bill Carson says:

      Hmm, seems I forgot to include library book rental in the post. Really, it seems like it should be the most logical, low-committment type of book consumption. The only reason this would be a problem for me is that I have a tendency to re-read or reference the books in my collection, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I’d returned all my books to the library. But for non re-readers, the library seems like the way to go. Plus, like you said, visitors will see the books piled up on your coffee table as if you’re a total smartie.

      As for the hardcovers vs paperback question. Interesting how you prefer the larger books. You must have discovered a premium reading posture that makes this possible. For me, I always end up straining my neck a little, or more forearms/wrists. But not all paperbacks are created equal anyway. Some are big and floppy and a pain to read in their own right, in which case, I can totally see your argument that hardcovers are easier to handle. I’m still sticking with Kindle though…

      • Right, didn’t even mention the Kindle. You see, for me, Kindle is like computer time and I want to get off the computer when I read. I know it’s not really the same, but I kind of see it that way. And, yes, I am not a rereader.

  3. Doobster418 says:

    I buy all my books at Amazon and then upload them (or download them; I never know which is which) to my Kindle app on my iPad, which also automagically puts them on my iPhone as well. And that’s how I read them. My book shelves have become nik-nak shelves (and collectors of vast quantities of dust). I have been thinking about taking a picture of my iPad’s Kindle app home page, blowing it up, and mounting it on the front of my bookshelves to give it the appearance of having a lot of books on it. That way, when I have my next dinner party, which will be on the 12th of Never, people will be amazed by all of the many books I’ve downloaded (or is that uploaded?), most of which I have yet to read. But I do plan to finish all of them by the 12th of Never.

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