2017 is the year that I decided to give up e-books and begin collecting “the classics” again in physical books.
Since the age of 19, I have collected books in some way. The genesis of my love of literature began in the Fall of 2001. I was an accounting student at a community college in Nova Scotia and was disillusioned with the notion of going right into the workforce while all my friends were living it up at universities across the country. So, I was like, well shit, I should go to university. The problem was, during my grade 12 year, I was more interested in drugs, girls, and chillin with my hommies than I was in things like grades and exams (I still keep a copy of my deplorable grade 12 report card around as a memento of sorts). I did some upgrading via correspondence – I retook grade 12 English and Canadian History. The English course was comprised of four books: The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
The Stone Angel was a revelatory book for me. 30 pages in and I was hooked; I knew from that point that I was a “reader.” Dickens’ novel blew me away, Miller’s play blew me away. And Macbeth was just wow. To this day, 16 years later, these four books still rank amongst my favorite works of literature. After completing my upgrading courses with stellar marks, I sent off some university applications and decided I would study English. My book collecting also began.
My collection of classics grew steadily. Being a poor student though, the quality wasn’t high. I didn’t care about condition or the series, I just wanted the titles. Wordsworth Editions from Chapters made up the bulk of literary collection (being roughly $3 to $5 a piece). My passion for Canadian literature also started to take shape with my collection of the New Canadian Library series continually growing.
Once I had finished my bachelor’s degree a few years later, I was just done with books, reading and literature. I was burnt out on the whole concept and sick of that world. I did the unthinkable: I took my whole collection, except for around 10 very special books including my grade 12 copy of The Stone Angel, and sold them for a few hundred bucks at a used book store.
By late 2007, the bug had bit me again. My book collecting grew in ferocity in comparison to my days as a student. By 2012 I had hundreds of books. My primary focus was again Canadian literature, but I still strived to have a solid representation of the Western Cannon. I would say I had a 65/35 split in my collection, with the 65 being Canadian.
It was around this time that e-readers were all the rage. Everyone had a Kobo or Kindle or a generic one. I decided to jump on the bandwagon. I went on Project Gutenberg and downloaded every classic I could think of in ebook form, bought an Aluratek e-reader, and boxed up all my classics, a good 200 books or so, and once again went to the used book stores and sold them off. The way I looked at it, I had more books now and I made money on the overall transaction. I later upgraded to an Android tablet and continued to be content with my collecting status – classics in electronic form and Canadian literature in physical form.
Recently, I’ve grown disillusioned with the idea of ebooks. There is nothing to hold, nothing to hand down to my child when he an adult, instead it is nothing but a file on a computer screen. I stare a computer screen all day at work, why would I want to stare at a screen to pursue my favorite hobby.
This sentiment is not unique to me. In recent years, physical media has come back into vogue with a vengeance: vinyl records, paper books, even VHS tapes in some cases are now hot commodities.
With regards to reading ebooks, there has been numerous data points that have pointed out why they are an inferior product and why sales of physical books have rebounded: amongst students, comprehension suffers when the book is in electronic format; reading an ebook in bed harms sleep by reducing melatonin production, and copyrights are more restricted with purchased ebooks. Additionally, for those weirdos like myself with English degrees, there are some major pitfalls with reading free literary works from Project Gutenberg: the most important being lack of editorial oversight.
When you read a classic work of literature put out in a series like Penguin Classics, Oxford’s World Classics, and even low cost lines like Wordsworth Editions or Dover Thrift Editions, there is an editor who oversees the text of the edition – is it authoritative and recognized – and they do the basics like copy editing. With Gutenberg – the text you are reading was likely copied out by some guy using who-knows-what as a source. And, of course, Gutenberg ebooks do not have any cool introductory essays, chronologies, and they have convoluted pagination.
So, I have decided that I am finished with reading classic works of literature in electronic formats. I want that physical book. I want the smell, the feel, the satisfaction of placing books on the shelf and that sense of accomplishment of closing a book for the final time once I’ve finished it. In January of this year, shortly before I began this blog, I ordered my first load of classics from Indigo, all Penguin Classics, and set off on my building my Classic Lit Collection V3.0.