A few nights ago I started reading a very old copy of The Brothers Karamazov. It came to me in a group of classics from my stepfather’s collection. I have no idea how old it is, because for some reason Random House decided not to include the copyright date on the indicia of its “Modern Library” line, but considering that it was stamped inside “From Mrs. Smith’s Rental Library” and included a Tulsa, Oklahoma address with no ZIP code, I can assume it probably dated sometime in the 1940s, which is spot-on according to this Modern Library collector.
No matter what the date, I love old books. I love the smell of them, even if a room full of them makes me sniffle. I love that they hold the energy of everybody who ever touched them, including Mrs. Smith in Tulsa. If I had scooped this novel up along with the other free Project Gutenberg classics available for my Kindle, it simply would not have been the same. A good, massive, Russian novel deserves a medium that feels heavy in your hand to really set the stage for the epic journey within. Here are some other books I think are worth buying (or borrowing) in hardcover, just to experience the story with the fullness of the authors’ intent:
1. War and Peace. Gotta love the classics. Unfortunately, I picked this up as an e-book because it was free, but that was a mistake. It makes the story feel too light, too airy. And, unfortunately, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (another massive book, which I just finished reading) includes a spoiler alert for War and Peace. I’ll still finish, although I’ll probably switch to hardcover. Dammit, Franzen.
2. Anna Karenina. This, I believe, is one of Tolstoy’s best books, and far better than War and Peace. The story is so large, in concept, human drama, and size, that nothing less than a hardcover can do it justice.
3. The Prince of Tides. Pat Conroy’s prose is sumptuous, his family tsuris so close to the bone it aches, his South Carolina setting so nearly a character in itself you can smell the salt marshes and the hairspray of the carefully coiffed Southern belles. This is one of his best novels, one you may want to sink into it in a chair by the fire for many, many nights.
4. Doctor Zhivago. This is one of my favorite Russian novels. Period.
5. Anything by John Irving, especially The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. He writes novels I want to burrow into, immersing myself in the worlds of his quirky and sometimes dark characters.
6. The Grapes of Wrath. I read this Steinbeck classic in electronic format a few months ago, because I needed to start on it immediately for a tight deadline writing test-prep questions. The story of the Joad family’s journey through the American southwest during the Dust Bowl is heart-wrenching and mesmerizing, and I should have taken a few minutes to go to the library for the hardcover. This is the classic American novel, and captures a period in history so vividly and from so many points of view, that it deserves the respect of a physical edition. Next time, for sure.
7. The Color Purple. Yes, Oprah was great in the movie, but the story is so much better on the page. Alice Walker is a brilliant, brilliant writer, and the details in this novel are exquisite. If you want a real treat, pick up one of her audio books, as long as she has done the narration.
What are your favorite books that you would never consider reading in anything but a printed edition? Or did you give away your library once you got your e-reader?