“Why so many copies of the same book,” Julie asked me last summer, looking around my living room with a perfectly neutral expression. Julie’s a minimalist, and I imagined that her politeness masked the voice inside her head screaming, “for the love of God–why?!”
Sure, one doesn’t necessarily NEED more than one copy of any book, but I NEED more than one copy of some Very Important Books. Here’s why.
Book as Art Object
I’m starting my explanation with, probably, my least practical reason for owning more than one copy of a book–books are pretty. Books are art objects as much as literary art.
A good book cover understands and represents the ideas inside–it presents to readers a hint of the world within its binding. That’s why most Jane Austen books are pastel: to reflect what most readers think about the world within her books–feminine, proper, sweet, romantic. And it’s why some of my favorite editions of Austen’s books are those with cover illustrations by Audrey Neffineger. Pastel, yes, but those ink drawings suggest turmoil inside that pastel world; they reveal the conflict and sharpness found in Austen’s work but often overlooked in popular culture.
Or, take the Persephone Press books, which recover and republish often forgotten and out-of-print books by female authors. But don’t take mine. You can’t have mine. You have to order them from London, but they are well worth the shipping. Even a minimalist like Julie can appreciate these books with their gray and white bindings.
And then inside, oh! Inside! Open up their simple covers and find a splash of color! Each book has its own special end pages and book mark that is a print of a pattern, usually a textile designed by women during the time period the book was written in. Persephone recovers visual and verbal art by women, merging them into a single art object. Be still my beating heart!
Book as Work
One of the books that I think of as Art Object in my house is Harry Potter. My original hardcovers, bought over the years as soon as they were released, are pristine. They show the markings of wear and tear–flexible spines, soft jackets, salt water splashes from having read them at the beach–but there are no pen markings. And, when I realized I was going to teach Harry Potter in a college classroom, my stomach roiled at the thought of marking those books. They are first editions after all. So I bought paperback copies to write notes in. They are my Work Copies.
I’m not a professional scholar anymore, but I’m still a scholar at heart and in practice, and all those books I bought to take notes in, saving my Art Objects from being marked in, well, I’m keeping them.
Book as Gift
People who know me KNOW I love Jane Austen, so several of my copies of her books were given to me as gifts. I love this. It’s thoughtful and let’s me put a “person” on my shelf. That pink hardback set of Austens? That’s my stepmother. That cheap but crazy pretty Dover edition of P&P? My husband’s first gift to me. The fancy gilt Barnes and Noble? My Dad. The Japanese edition? Husband again. The T-shirt with the entire text of P&P on it? My Aunt.
All of these people are lined up in a row in book form, and I love it! And I love them for adding to my hoard. Sure, I could get rid of the less quality editions, but no! These aren’t thoughtless, generic gifts, and when I look at them on bad days, I remember that I’m loved and supported.
Book as Memory
The first time I ever read Peter Pan, was on a college study abroad trip in Ireland. I read it on the bus that carted us from one literary site to another. The bus was a world unto itself, and I found a solitary corner of it and curled up for the first time with Peter, the Darlings, and the Lost Boys. By the time I hit the final page and looked up at the neon green countryside beyond the window… so. many. tears.
Whenever I see that little green copy of Peter Pan, I’m taken back to that moment. That bittersweet understanding of Peter’s greatest gift and greatest curse–eternal innocence–returns. The feeling of being part of the amazing group of people touring Ireland with me and yet being apart from it, of reading Peter, the embodiment of youth, in a place that felt so old, much older than my home country felt. All of this comes back in the form of that tiny green book–a memory bound and organized neatly on a shelf alongside all my other memories.
And so, when I went to study Peter Pan for my dissertation, I couldn’t bring myself to take notes in it. I needed a new copy for more utilitarian motives. I needed a Work Copy. I wanted my little cheap, green copy of Peter to always encapsulate that one time in my life, and it even seemed sacrilege to approach that book with the objective, analytical scalpel I’d need to wield in order to write my dissertation. So it remained untouched while a new copy acquired new notes and new memories, and I’m glad for it.
Book as Acquisitions Merger
When you’re an English major who marries another English major, you have, essentially, one of those word math problems. If Whitney has X amount of books and Brian has X amount of books, how many bookcases will they need when they move in together?
The answer? More than we had. And, because we have very similar literary tastes (we both love the Romantics, Salman Rushdie, our Norton Anthologies, and John Donne), we ended up with a TON of duplicate copies. At one point, we owned two of every single book Salman Rushdie had ever published.
At first, I felt very possessive of MY BOOKS. I didn’t care if we didn’t need two copies, I wanted to keep MY BOOKS and he could keep HIS BOOKS. There would be no marriage between our book collections, thank you very much. But, after seven years of marriage and two moves, I have loosened my stance a bit. I am always acquiring more books and neither of us really have notes in many of these duplicate copies, so year by year, our double Rushdie Collection has dwindled to a single, with a few left over (Because of notes. English majors don’t like throwing away their notes!).
Hoarder, Collector, Dragon
So, yes, I’m a Book Hoarder, though I prefer the phrase Collector. Or Dragon…
And, yes, I own over 10 copies of Pride and Prejudice (hey, that’s better than the over 300 owned by the very nice woman I met at a Jane Austen Summer Camp!). Yes, I have 4 copies of Anne of Green Gables, 3 of Peter Pan, 2 of the Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, 2 of Beloved, and at least 3 of Jane Eyre. But each represents more than simply space taken up on a shelf. Each is more than the accumulation of dust on the shelf around it. Not only are these books the ideas and worlds inside them, they are art forms, work tools, memories, and relationships.
What about you guys? Do you have multiple copies of a single book? If so, why? Tell us in the comments!