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January 18th, 2008

Book Formats

I was going to post this to Blog For A Beer, but it seemed too personally focused ...

I've noticed lately that some books are suited to their packaging. The words, the story, lend themselves to different formats.

For example, a few months back I sat down to start reading the World Fantasy nominees (I'm a slow reader these days) and I made it nicely through the mass market reprint of Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword. Mass market suited that book. It was something you could hold close and cherish, just as its characters cherished their own books.

Then I tackled Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. I'd picked up the mass market, but two chapters into it I knew I was going to keep reading and jump straight to the next book, which was out in hardcover, so I picked up the original hardcover for Lies. The story was suited to a format as big and substantial as hardcover. (Not that Kushner's wasn't; it's just that different readings leave different impressions. A trade release might carry the same weight, enough weight, to support Lynch's tale.)

Now I'm finally moving on to the last three nominees (slow reader, remember) and I'm reading Lisey's Story by Stephen King. Am I reading the hardcover I bought when it was released? The hardcover with the beautiful glossy cover hiding behind the cutout dust jacket? No. I'm reading the mass market. Because it's another personal book. It's a story I need to approach in a format that fits neatly and closely within my hands.

And I think it's interesting that I can see books this way. It's as if they're pieces in a jigsaw puzzle -- or bricks, with mortar coming from the smells and memories and associations I establish during their reading. I already know In The Night Garden is perfect in its trade format because it reminds me of an abridged volume of The Arabian Nights I read as a pre-teen. In The Night Garden will fit snugly into those comfortable (and comforting) memories, as if it's a keystone in an arch that spans from childhood to adulthood.

I'm pretty sure publishers don't think about impression when they're packaging books. I know some people on my Flist could address this subject better than I can, but I know it's a fact I consider. Jim Butcher's Dresden books are ones I pick up in mass market, for example, because that's the association I've made with those stories. They were easy and approachable and fun reads. They were mass market. But the packaging isn't a limitation, and that's the beauty here. When I read Dead Beat after its mass market release, I realized that Jim had delivered. Dead Beat was the first Dresden book published first in hardcover. I greeted that release with the preconceived notion (based on my past experiences) that it wasn't right for that format. It was a mass market. Now and forever, amen. And yet, when I reached the penultimate scenes ... everything Jim puts you through in the preceding volumes, making it a point that Harry grows as a character, that the world is shown as lovely and dark and deep as it's possible to do, I immediately knew it was worth the cost of a hardcover price. That's what good writers do. There isn't any buyer beware with a true best seller.

Which gives me goals, don't you know. :-)

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