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!

Book Sales & Crumbling Paperbacks

My new book bag.

Every year we go to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale.

The books had been plundered and pillaged by the time we got there on the second night.  The  classics were down to a few Dickens and Brontes.  This is a slight exaggeration.

I had a sinking feeling I’d gone to the sale too many times.  We filled a book bag instead of a box.  I’m happy to have bought fewer books, though, because I have FINALLY shelved all my books and don’t want clutter.  But why go if there is nothing unusual?  I found a few in the trade paperback section.  I haven’t read this novel by Julia Glass, who won the National Book Award in 2002 for Three Junes.  And who doesn’t like David Lodge’s satires?

But, really, we have to find more book sales in the midwest.  Where have all the good books gone?


Some of my  paperbacks have fallen apart.  Not surprisingly, my Washington Square paperback of Jane Eyre (the first I had) is no longer readable.

Traditionally I’ve been a paperback person, but in 2017 I got hooked on Folio Society books.  A group of friends and I purchased some FS books for a round robin.  We were co-owners and traded them back and forth.

We logged our reading time.  No reason.

My friend’s daughter, who had just gotten out of rehab,  kept a journal because she was supposed to try to change her behavior.  And she said she read enough to cut  half an hour to forty-five minutes from her phone time. Pretty good for anyone!

The Folio Society books were overall a good influence. Who needs to read the latest Booker Prize winner when we’re busy with the FS edition of Jude the Obscure?   My discovery?  I started rereading the classics because the books were so attractive.. I especially recommend the beautiful edition of Wuthering Heights, with an introduction by Patti Smith and illustrations by Rovina Cai.

A Penguin Hardcover Classic of “Bleak House” and coffee.

The FS books will last, but I’ve been musing:  how long will my other hardbacks?  Will my cute affordable Penguin hardback classics last for 50 years?  I am a fan of Coralie Bickford’s  cover designs, especially the birdcages on the cover of Bleak House (think of Miss Flite). And these  books are good value:  usually under $20.  The print is a nice size and the paper is sturdy.

But perhaps we are not meant to sit in bed and hold Bleak House in one hand while we slurp coffee.  The cover of Bleak House took a beating!  And, oops, a coffee stain on one of the pages.

Has anyone bought Knickerbocker flexibound classics?  They’re on sale at Barnes and Noble for $10.  They look very cute, with a flexible cover and a strap that closes it like  a Moleskine notebook.  I have read most of the titles, though.

I buy strictly reading copies. (Well, except for the FS splurge.)   Should we buy paperbacks or hardbacks for replacements?  Or do you buy first editions?

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