February 3, 2009

hardcover or trade paperback?

I know for most book collectors, it goes without saying: hardcover is the way to go. Sewn bindings and acid-free paper mean a longer-lasting book. An ideally bound hardcover will, over time (think of ones you get from the library) lie open flat on your lap, which is certainly convenient. But many trade paperbacks use high-quality paper now, and more and more hardcover bindings are glued, not sewn, all of which complicates the decision about whether or not to shell out the extra money on a hardbound book.*

I judge books by their covers all the time, not necessarily in terms of the quality of what one might contain but often at least in terms of whether it is something I am interested in buying. Usually I already know what I want (that's what reviews are for), but sometimes a cover just grabs you and you end up looking up the reviews afterwards. But with most hardcovers, the cover design is only included on the dust jacket (with the book itself usually swathed in tasteful monotones) --- and this sometimes makes me want to wait for the trade paperback.

I don't quite get the concept of the dust jacket. It's supposed to keep the hard cover itself pristine, but if the distinctive cover design is printed only on the paper jacket, then I end up being more worried about its wear and tear, rather than that of the book itself, especially since dust jackets seem particularly fragile, often unlaminated and susceptible to tearing. (Maybe this concern for the dust jacket is bizarre, but I don't think it's uncommon. I've seen lots of people tenderly stowing away jackets before carting around naked hardcovers.) The jacket is, after all, what's going to be wrapped around the book while it's sitting on a bookcase, where (presumably) it will live out most of the rest of its bookish life.

All of this is also a long preamble to talk about how much I like the hardcover for Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances. (I also quite like the book, but I'm still reading it so I won't say anything further at the moment.) Now it's not evident from the picture below, but the cover design is printed right onto the hardbound book itself and there is no dust jacket. (I guess probably technically the cover is very closely glued on.) Does anyone know the name for this kind of cover? It strikes me as a nice way out of the dust jacket dilemma. I am aware that some hardcovers come with both the printed-design cover as well as an identical dust jacket (I'm thinking of my hard-bound Harry Potter books), but that just seems overly fussy somehow.

Attractive, eh? When I was Googling for this image, I also stumbled upon a book trailer for the novel. I can't say I've ever seen a book trailer before, but I wonder how one would be put together for a book that didn't have an attractive illustrative design:

* I should mention the fact that many of the new books I've purchased over the past year (often from small presses) were never released in hardcover, which simplifies things.


kaffeine said...

A friend of mine often buys hardcover non-fiction with beautiful cover art. But then, I suppose it has much to do with the fact that he buys business and design books.

Jonathan Ball said...

I just like the durability of hard covers. And I kind of like the way a hard cover looks without the jacket. To me it's the best of both worlds: an attractive jacket, and a nice, classy plain hardback. However I hate holding the book with the jacket in my hands. I take the jackets off and throw them on the floor by the bookshelf when I want to read a hardcover, just because the jackets feel slippery and they slide around when you're trying to read. I've got a few books with the images printed on the hardback itself, but I don't know the term for it either. Ultimately I think you're right, it looks much better to design the hardback and dispose with dust jackets altogether. McSweeney's consistently puts out gorgeous hardcovers with no jackets.

saleema said...

Yup, I realized just looking over my cookbook shelf that the type of book can have a lot to do with packaging. I'm grateful I haven't yet acquired the bug of wanting gorgeous design books...esp. since they're out of my budget.

Jon, yes: I always toss the jacket somewhere, too, and then it loses its shape and never sits right on the book again. McSweeney's, eh? Looking into this...