Allergic to Paperbacks: The Desperate Search for Good Paper

Folio Society edition Middlemarch (2018)

It is three degrees! And that, I fear, is the high for the day. At any rate, my chapped skin tells me we are not due for a thaw or warmer temperatures. Like a rural peasant with chillblains in Thomas Hardy, I can now talk in hearty dialect and witchily predict the weather on the basis of chilblains. (I also read the weather report, of course.) My poor hands are raw and red, more so this winter than ever because of sanitizer. But, okay, in public places sanitizer is better than nothing.

And, in case you’re wondering, my rash also controls my reading. The pages of a book can soothe or sting, depending on the quality of the paper. Though I often state that I am a paperback person, I must for the present read hardbacks. The bad news: I’ve noticed a trend in new hardback books toward cheaper paper. I hope this doesn’t last: I have heard there’s a paper shortage.

A 1972 Folio Society edition of Middlemarch, illustrated by Brian Jacques

My reserve of hardbacks is smaller than my paperback cache, alas. Just the other day I complained about disliking some of the illustrations in Folio Society hardbacks. No more! I take it back! The paper in the Folio Society editions has proved so soothing that my rash recedes as I turn the pages.

And so I wondered if I could find a Folio Society George Eliot. Wasn’t there an attractive new FS edition of Middlemarch a few years ago? At the Folio Society website, it costs $125. Surely I could find a cheap used copy.

But, no! I have noticed higher prices at online booksellers lately, and perhaps they can make money on used Folio Society books. At one website there is an older edition of Middlemarch, with drawings by Robin Jacques, for $35.67 plus $5.86 postage. The cheapest used 2018 FS Middlemarch I can find is $171.83 plus $24.93 postage, more expensive than a new copy at the Folio Society. Since a used bookstore in the area used to sell them for $20 (that was a couple of years ago),I am very surprised. Perhaps it’s the pandemic? Fewer sales?

Illustration by Pierre Mornet in Folio Society edition of Middlemarch (2018)

I could, of course, “trade” my FS partial Jane Austen set for other books purchased by our Folio Society “collective”a few years ago. I loved belonging to a collective. It may not have been as important as reducing climate change, but reading is just as vital in its way. According to our hand-written “catalogue,” a friend in Marshalltown has a used Folio Society copy of Silas Marner. That is my least favorite George Eliot, but why not try it again?

Advise me on your favorite high-quality hardcover editions of classics, used or new. And who is selling cheap Folio Society copies? I am opening my comments again at this post for this weekend. Then I shall return to misanthropy!

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