All due respect to the patron saint of clutter-free living, Marie Kondo, I’m never getting rid of my physical media. I don’t give a damn if it winds up entombing me (it will). What’s becoming more inconsistent, however, is how I determine physical versus digital purchases in 2019. Since I’ve been kind of OCD about my lacking internal code, I figured a little blog therapy might help me reach the core of it.
When I was a kid, my mom took me to a local used book store called “Annie’s Book Swap.” I was young, already settling into horror fandom and so I gravitated toward the horror shelf (much to her dismay). Some of the earliest titles I remember coming home with and devouring were Headhunter by Michael Slade, The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, and The Howling by Gary Brandner. These books were massively transformative to me, and there was something about the content of each that imprinted on me in a way that movies could not.
Each time we’d go back to Annie’s, I begged mom for another handful of books. She was glad to do it. In her defense, she couldn’t have known just how graphic horror fiction had become. In her own mind, she imagined all this stuff was just slightly north of Wuthering Heights. A lot of the books I wound up choosing were too mature for me, but my mom was glad I was reading instead of spending every hour in front of Nintendo or the VCR (my mom is happy now when my kids are reading instead of spending every hour in front of YouTube or the iPad, not that I allow that).
I treasured most of these books, many of which sit upon my shelves today. And thank God. Now that vintage paperback horror is all the rage again, many of these titles have gone up in value and I’m glad to have saved them. One of life’s greatest pleasures was staying up at night, pouring through my latest paperback acquisitions. I read everything from cover-to-cover back then. And while I was lucky enough to get a lot of great novels, subsequent Annie’s trips were cursed by the law of diminishing returns. Some late night reads were met with resounding thuds, but there was always next trip and so it didn’t matter. Plus, most of the books looked cool, and that counts for a lot when your “classic paperbacks” bookshelf doubles today as home decor.
I don’t remember exactly when Annie’s Book Swap closed. There were only two good used book stores in my immediate area and I don’t think either of them survived too far beyond the mid-90s. So I turned to mainstream bookstores just in time to catch the rise of Leisure and guys like Edward Lee, Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, and of course reissues of Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum. Couple the Leisure gang with authors like Bentley Little and F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series, and my love of genre was well sustained throughout college. It was those 70s and 80s paperbacks that cemented my love and obsession with horror fiction, but it was the Leisure era authors who made me realize I had to take a stab at this whole author thing.
The fiction world changed, partly for the better and partly for worse, with the rise of eReaders. I love my Kindle Paperwhite. There’s nothing like it while on vacation. The convenience of slipping into a beach chair and dropping something into your lap that’s no heavier than a magazine is second-to-none. And you don’t have to worry about keeping a backup book on hand, either, because your whole library’s there at your fingertips. How great is that?
What’s even better is that many books can be bought for a buck. Sometimes just two or three. Other books are going on sale all the time, and so it felt like I was always adding eBooks to my digital shelf. I went trawling through the horror section searching out new novels and hoping to have similar experiences to all those childhood afternoons spent scouring the shelves at Annie’s Book Swap. But the more I chased that feeling the more I realized you can’t go home again. Sure, I found some new authors whose work I really love, but it was rare. And before long, my enthusiasm for digital buying sprees waned and I was becoming much for selective about what books got my money.
Sometimes I just craved physical copies. I still buy them, especially new releases from my favorite authors. And in a perfect world, books would work the same way as movies. Buy a physical edition and get a digital code along with it. I do prefer reading on my phone on occasion, like while in the waiting room at the doctor’s or at the mechanic. When I’m settling into bed for the night, though? I want the physical book in my lap. Unless of course it’s too big and heavy to sit there comfortably, and then, well, then I want to have that edition on my shelf while actually reading the book on my phone. And when I’m revisiting some of my favorite novels, I actually prefer to experience them via audiobook as a means of adding a layer of freshness to them.
So I guess it’s all a bit complicated…
When my books are published, I’m particular about the way they look and feel because, well, I’ve got pride in my work. Cover art is marketing and unless you’ve already got an ironclad readership, you’re going to need to entice all the readers you can. I’ve also heard from countless readers who tell me they prefer to read an actual book. Since I’m the same way, I figure I need to sell you something that looks as good on your shelf as any other book on the market. That means good cover art and a solid layout in addition to the content between covers.
There are plenty of reasons why Kindle sales have plateaued, but at least part of it (I’m willing to bet) has to do with the glut of ebooks thrown up on Amazon without any serious copyediting or formatting, and certainly without eye catching cover art. People are only willing to be burned so often before they bow out. Indie authors in general have to work a lot harder to distinguish themselves from these aforementioned scammers and hacks, as a lot of people won’t even read an author who isn’t published through one of the big houses. I wish that wasn’t the case, but given that I’ve been burned a time or two through blind buys of my own, I totally get it.
So here I am at what feels like a ridiculous cross section of inconsistencies and contradictions. One where I buy eBooks, hardcovers, and paperbacks without rhyme or reason. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with an ebook and decide I need a physical copy for my shelf. Or sometimes the hardcover is too heavy and awkward to read comfortably in bed and so I’ll grab the ebook too. My night table currently has a stack of books by Stephen Graham Jones, Bret Easton Ellis, William Johnstone, Grady Hendrix, C.V. Hunt, and Jeff Lindsay. eBook reads are currently by Alma Katsu, Laura Van Den Berg, and Thomas Olde Heuvelt. I’m not exactly sure how I chose physical versus eBook for these particular authors, but my preferred mode of reading each night does kind of determine who gets read next.
And for me, I think that’s where I’ve landed. People can sling their pro and anti clutter stances around until they’re blue in the face. I have no desire to get that granular with my preferences. I’ll forever lament the death of my local used book stores, those who packed up shop and severed my pipeline of rare horror paperbacks. I still manage a nice infusion of titles every couple of months, and for me the aesthetics of this particular segment of books is why I’m still hellbent on adding them to my shelves (they’re really good conversation pieces).
As for new books? I’ll take them however I can get them. That will have to be good enough for me.