By William Shelton • February 15, 2022
Scientific studies have shown that positive online interactions result in the human body releasing dopamine, the chemical that is nature's little reward system. Gratification, if not instant, is forever looming in our future. In an age when our next big opportunity for fulfilment, or just a dopamine hit, is little more than a swipe away, culturally we have learned that a better option in shopping, dining, or dating, could be just on the horizon. The same is true when purchasing books.
School reading lists are a perfect example. One can easily find a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for their student, in a range of conditions from a basic reading copy to a like new edition.
They can swipe through their options until they find the edition that rings all the bells—beautiful to look at, with characteristics that draw the eye, lovely to hold for the feel of its soft leather, and captivating to listen to the gentle whisper of the vellum pages turning. These books are the full dopamine hit. These are the Collectibles.
Book clubs are a perennial favorite way for folks to gather, socialize, imbibe, and discuss the latest hot-topic book. It has been my observation when participating in book club meetings, that each week the copies of the book in question arrive at the meeting in various, and sometimes suspicious, conditions. Sometimes they are swollen and waterlogged from being dropped while read in the bathtub. Some copies land on the meeting table in dubiously pristine condition, causing furtive glances not only at the book, but the owner. Knowing looks are exchanged, telegraphing suspicion that nary a page of that book was turned. Then there are the editions that appear to have traveled the Oregon Trail in pioneer days on foot: their back is bent, their covers are dusty, and they are just glad to still be intact.
How much better would the experience be if, when your local book club decides to read The Portrait of a Lady, you could hold a beautiful Collectible edition of the book? What an impression you could make when attending your book club meetings while simpler editions of the book, like little brown sparrows, are pulled from satchels and purses, you could proudly place your Collectible copy, as lovely as a brightly jeweled peacock, on the table.
Another long-standing tradition among literary circles is the accumulation of private libraries. The size, contents, and method of display are as varied as the owners, but one characteristic is usually consistent: mixed among the copies of Dale Carnegie, Will Durant, and Tom Clancy, are titles and authors of classic works of literature. When taking the time to build your own private library, be it for your ancestral manse on the rocky Cornish coast, your first studio apartment, or anything in between, swipe through the other options, appealing in their own right, and select Collectible editions, which not only will be a joy to read, but also lovely to display.
A set of the works of William Shakespeare is wonderful to own, and even better if read, but much more meaningful if it is a rare, antique, and finely made collection of the Bard's work. The level of care and attention, the love that was infused in 18th and 19th century book making, is a beauty and wonder to behold. A library that includes such books is all the more precious for the multi-dimensional quality these fine editions offer: their feel, touch, physical beauty, and the scent of the ages which clings to the page.
A popular place for urban readers to indulge their habit is on the commuter train. For those of us who have experienced communal travel, and are readers, each has been guilty from time to time of frankly staring at a fellow passenger holding a book, sharp curiosity of their selection evident in our probing glances. I have been scandalized by the sight of prim and demure grandmothers clutching copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, felt pride when the works of Thomas Paine peeked out of school bags, and laughed in fond memory when the passenger was holding any book written by Erma Bombeck. While it might seem out of place to have a fine rare edition of a book on the rough and tumble commuter bus or train, it speaks to a level of dedication to the art of reading to ensure that what you select to read is reflected in the edition of the chosen book.
Many years ago when my mother was going through difficult surgeries, I randomly plucked a Franklin Library edition of Don Quixote from my book shelves at home before leaving for the hospital. The long anxious hours in the waiting room were made bearable by the frequent questions, expressions of surprise that I had such a fine copy of the book to read, and the many times I would have to display the book, or pass it around for viewing by the other people present. When my mother was discharged, I made a gift of the book to the waiting room library.
This is the time of the year when, presumably in honor of a Third Century Roman saint, we express our love and affection for those most dear to us, usually in the form of gift giving. Jewelry, candy, and flowers usually are thronged on the shelves of stores in anticipation. Online we peruse page after page of virtual options for the unique item that materially will convey our adoration. Intrepid shoppers would select books. A usual part of the courting process is the pleasant discovery of similar tastes in movies, music, and books. This serves to reinforce the compatibility of two people.
Celluloid fades, and music trends are fleeting, but the love of a well-read book endures. Each reader has a favorite book, or several. What more wonderful, quiet, and sincere way of expressing to another that you know, understand, and appreciate them, than the presentation of a fine Collectible edition of a book which has touched their heart. Long after the candy would be eaten, the flowers withered, and perhaps even the gift giver passed, the book will remain as a reminder that the owner was once so loved that a person took the time to find a beautiful copy of that special book for them to read for decades.