I Want Gorgeous Books

I have plenty of books. I want the beautiful book sets.

Photo credit: Wicker Paradise, CC BY 2.0.

I love books. I am the cliché with my books, tea, and Friday nights filled with hours of reading and episodes of Golden Girls. Thanks to a frugal upbringing (why yes, you can fit six people in a single motel room while traveling), I rely heavily on the library with periodic purchases for books I want to own until my son packs me away to whatever passes for Shady Pines in the 2060s. Torn pages and stained covers are justified if I get a great deal.

But I want the nice books sets — the stunning Art Deco covers on the F. Scott Fitzgerald Hardback Collection, the Harry Potter sets by Juniper Books, shelves filled with everything published by Persephone Books. The words are the same as the $1 novel from the garage sale, but just looking at the beautiful sets makes me feel all smiley and happy. I am, in fact, judging a book by its cover. My want is about desiring something pretty and unnecessary and expensive when the cheaper version is perfectly fine and much more practical.

Through a combination of luck, hard work, and privilege, I’m now at a place where I have both the disposable income and the physical space to splurge on a decorative book set. I have a few sets bookmarked, but I have yet to enter my credit card number and eagerly await the arrival of a gorgeous set of Penguin Classics or Drop Caps.

The book sets live in purgatory on my “to buy someday list” because it feels wrong to purchase a book with the expectation that it will seldom be opened and read. At the library used book sale (aka the best day of the year, as Lisa Renee wrote), I still mentally calculate whether I should buy a book at the full price of $2 or take the chance it will still be there on $5 bag day. How do I go from that to dropping $200 on a set of Jane Austen novels that I’ve already read and already own in mass-market paperback?

I get closest to hitting checkout when I think of the sets as art as well as literature. The paintings and photographs I’ve purchased from local artists make my home warmer and happier and remind me of the value of living in a place with a strong arts community. But, as with art, I’d rather pay full price for a book when it directly supports an author or a small press. The authors who most need my financial support are frequently not the authors whose work is released in a beautifully designed, leather-bound edition printed on gorgeous paper with a silk reading ribbon that makes me feel like the fanciest person ever.

I know that buying a gorgeous set of classic novels does not mean I will never again purchase from an indie press. I will continue to spend parts of each vacation joyfully digging through the sale bins at the nearest used book store. One book set does not mean I am a paycheck(s) away from purchasing books by the foot in order to create a specific ombre pattern across my immaculately maintained bookshelves. That’s great if that’s your thing and it’s where you’ve decided to spend your extra money! It’s not mine though, and I hesitate at the idea of my bookshelves turning primarily into a display case rather than a record of what I’ve read and loved. Not that I don’t already carefully select which books appear in the living room bookshelf (where they can be seen by visitors) vs. what goes on my home office shelves, of course.

Obviously, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about this and should buy a semi-reasonably-priced set, put it front and center on my most visible bookshelf, and smile every time it catches my eye. Tell me, fellow bibliophiles, do your wants include pricy, beautiful books?

Deb Boyer lives on the East Coast and has mostly recovered from the last time she moved her book collection.

This story is part of The Billfold’s I Want It Now series.

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