I’ve always been a pretty active reader. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to pick up on this habit either. Three rooms in my house have some fairly substantial book shelvage (four if you count my upstairs hallway, where a storage shelf started acquiring a row of books on top), and even in the rooms where there aren’t book shelves, books I’m currently reading usually get left here or there. I try to keep it relatively tidy, and periodically I’ll move through and try to prune out a few books to make room or new stuff. This generally comes after some spousal grumbling. The Honey Badger occasionally objects when a new row of books appears. This leads to a periodic purging of books. There are books that I frankly will not part with, simply because I feel the need to always possess copies. I mean, it’s been years since I opened up Meredith Ann Pierce, but I still have The Darkangel Trilogy. (in my defense – I loved it as a tween, but it is still eerily beautiful as an adult) Then there are the books I swing back through every few years – Christopher Buckley, Brandon Sanderson, Emma Bull, Jon Krakauer. But when I go through my shelves, there are always a few books that I read once, liked to a certain degree, but just don’t feel the need to continue owning, particularly when my shelf real estate is at a premium.
But last week, I was going through another round of purging, and it occurred to me that there are a few books that I actually own two copies of – and, moreso, that I have no intention of downgrading to a single copy. It’s kind of interesting, and I was thinking about why this is.
I have two copies of The Princess Bride.
One is the 1987 edition that was the first one I ever owned. The cover art is different, plus there’s a really pretty fold-out map in the middle that’s in full color. Geography is not precisely complicated in this book, so it’s a perk rather than a requirement. But then I also have a 30th Anniversary edition that has a different forward and a bonus section at the end. It also has a reader’s guide, which for me is actually a strike against it – why is it that reader’s guides always seem to have the most moronic questions? Even glancing at them tends to piss me off.
This time around I was considering ditching my 1987 edition – after all, conceivably the 30th Anniversary is more definitive. The cover art is nicer, plus it’s a trade paperback, so it’s more comfortable to hold and read. But then I reflected that the 1987 had a more amusing description on the back cover. It’s not the “What if the most beautiful woman in the world married a handsome prince and he turned out to be a son of a bitch” line, because they tempered the last down to “…well, not a nice person,” but it makes me think of the original, and that makes me laugh. The 30th Anniversary back cover is just focused on the book’s success, which just doesn’t seem as fun. Plus, I didn’t hugely enjoy the forward on the 30th Anniversary edition, so I would skip over it anyway. And that little 1987 edition, with its crappy and overly medieval art knockoff cover has a certain nostalgia to it. This was the book I first read.
I kept both. Seriously, why? I haven’t read the book in years, yet I have two copies. Now even after reflection, I have two copies.
I have two copies of Life of Pi as well. And two copies of Ariel (but that’s mostly because I love the new copy, and find the other incredibly amusing in just a “what the hell were they thinking” kind of way).
I also have two copies of books that I teach with. This one actually isn’t that hard to figure out – the books that I teach with get completely trashed. For books that I really only use to teach with, it doesn’t matter that much. This includes every textbook I’ve ever used, plus old workhorses like The Best Essays of the Century or In Fact: Creative Nonfiction. I underline passages, dog-ear pages, draw in loops and stars and write comments in the margins. Post-it notes get stuck in with more notes, then sometimes there’s even the indignity of paper clips so that I can get to certain sections *really* fast. The more times I’ve taught a book, the more mangled the book gets – not just because I’m finding more useful passages to talk about in class, but that book is also getting stuffed in and out of my bag, having folders plopped on it, getting covered in chalk dust, and everything else you can imagine happening.
I don’t do this often, but sometimes I teach books that I love. I don’t do this too much, because there’s nothing more demoralizing than having a class full of bored and grumpy freshmen who are only taking this class to fulfill a graduation requirement absolutely tear apart a book that you honestly feel was special and beautiful. “It’s boring,” they whine. “I didn’t get it,” “I don’t really know much about computers, so I just couldn’t follow it,” (that last one is something I hear a lot about Neuromancer. It drives me nuts.)
But I do teach The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist, and I love the hell out of it. I’ve taught it five times, and I reread it each time, and it still blows my mind. Better yet, I’ve never taught it to a class when it didn’t blow their minds too. It makes them cry, it pisses them off, it does incredible things – every time. I’ve taught it to classes where we were studying dystopian fiction, and I’ve taught it to general writing classes where I was just trying to get them to write a definition essay – works for both. My copy that I teach with is absolutely mauled – so on another shelf, I have another copy that is pristine.
That’s the case for The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down as well, which I have two copies of – one is the one I teach with, and the other is actually my old student copy from Introduction to Anthropology. So both are actually equally marked up (the student copy actually still has the old “used” sticker on it), but one is full of thoughts I had as a student and the other is thoughts on how to teach it.
Then there are the books that I used to have two copies of, but don’t anymore. American Gods is one – I once had both the hardcover and a paperback copy, but I ended up trading away my paperback on Paperbackswap because I just loved the hardcover so much. It was an identical cover, too – I just had so many nice memories of reading the story the first time. I used to have two copies of Busman’s Honeymoon – but one was an old and beat-up copy that I bought second-hand, and I replaced it with a prettier edition that matched the rest of the series.
Then there are the books that I’ve bought in hardcover because it was the only way to get my greedy paws on them as soon as they come out, but I really don’t want to have that book in hardcover, so I buy the paperback when it comes out and get rid of the hardcover. I do this with Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson books, and I used to do it with the Sookie Stackhouse series, but for the last two books I’ve actually just gotten them out of the library and not bought them at all.
But thinking about what books I have two copies of, which ones I used to have two copies of, and all the reasoning and nostalgia and outright affection that goes into book ownership made me curious:
What books do YOU have two copies of?