Sometimes I sit back and soak in the beauty of my book collection. In those moments of reflection, a subtle smile always crosses my face when I look at my small Ben Bova collection. I’ve only read one of the nine books—all from the Grand Tour series—so what brings me such joy? The fact that all nine books have the same trade dress. That’s right, each one looks like it belongs to the same series. Yeah, all nine of them. Amazing!
Each of my Ben Bova books are the same size, shape, and essentially the same color, this metallic silver that really makes them stand out on the shelf. Plus, the author’s name and the book title are all in the same font and in the same spot on that spine. Ah, such beauty.
Compare that to my Orson Scott Card collection. Ah, what horror you’ll find at that end of the bookcase. Not only do the spines mismatch across series, they don’t align correctly in each grouping. For example, the first three books in the Alvin Maker series look nothing alike. Hell, you wouldn’t even know they were interrelated judging solely by the spine design. Volumes four and five look similar to one another, but not similar to any others. But even with these two the pictures on the spines are two different sizes, and the title on one is horizontal and the other vertical. Of course, the newest volume looks nothing at all like the others. Argh!
Yes, I get great joy in seeing a universal look and feel to a section of my bookcase. And yes, I often cringe when books by the same author mismatch. I used to keep quiet about these dark secrets, but now, I found that I’m not alone. Not by a long shot.
Bomaya over at the Marvel Masterworks forum recently started a thread titled, aptly enough, Spines. Bomaya wrote: “I have a bugbear that is the bane of my life. Spines—and the lack in consistency thereof.”
Ah, now here’s a collector after my own heart. He went on to grumble about his deep seeded misgivings about Marvel’s choice to have three different spine designs in one 3-book series. Naturally, he highlighted other sets that suffer from the same lack of respect from the Marvel designers.
But what really got me to liking this guy was this:
“What does it matter what's on the spine, you cry? It's what’s between the covers that counts. Well yes, maybe, but I don't have time to read all the books I buy. I like buying collections because I'm a collector and I like to display them on my shelves. Occasionally I'll take one down, stroke it and flick through the pages and sometimes, sometimes I'll read them! But 99% of their lives will be spent on my shelf with only the spine visible so yes, it is important to me.”
Yes! Yes! God damn it, Yes!
In one paragraph of gut wrenching honesty, Bomaya hit on several points this collector has struggled with for years. The fact that I probably won’t read every book I buy. The fact that it’s just as fun to “stroke” and “flick through” the pages as it is to read them. But most importantly, these books spend their entire lives on the bookcase! With that in mind, part of the thrill of owning a cool book is looking at it surrounded by your other kick ass books. Sure, it’s wonderful to read the story and see what’s inside, but let’s face it, I’ll spend more time looking at their spines than I ever will reading the things. So damn it, they better look cool sitting there.
Naturally, a few other forum members jumped up and admitted to having these same feelings, and we all shared our secrets and had our own Spine Lovers Anonymous meeting. And honestly, it felt nice to know I wasn’t alone. To know that I wasn’t afflicted with some rare disease that opens me up to ridicule and segregation.
So now, when I look at those sections of my bookcase that just don’t sit right, I can openly admit my discomfort. Sure, that doesn’t make those books look better on the shelf, but now there’s a little warm spot inside that says, “It’s okay.”