On Reading Signed Copies

I really, really like getting signed copies of books. At this point, I have enough signed copies that it constitutes an actual collection. Best of all, I have signed copies of books by most of my favorite authors: George R. R. Martin, Jim Butcher, John Scalzi, and many, many others. At some point, I plan to reorganize my shelves to keep all my signed books together so I can look at them while working on my Gollum impression.

But.

You knew that was coming. I would never write a blog post like this unless there was a but.

I love my signed copies. In fact, I love them so much that I hate reading them.

Here’s the thing about me and books. When I’m in a book, I take it with me everywhere I go. My current book becomes my teddy bear; it’s with my all the time. It goes with me from home to work and back. I carry it on my lunch break and read it during lunch, which is especially dangerous to the book because I walk a mile or so during my lunch break which means much manhandling along the way.

This is one of the reasons why I will get library copies of books I already own, or buy copies of books that I’ve already read at the library. Reading a library book takes away the pressure and the anxiety. Now, wait just a goddamned minute, you might be thinking indignantly to yourself. Matthew Ciarvella, don’t you work in a library? Are you saying you don’t care about what happens to your library books?

I do work in a library, hypothetical blog reader. And that means I see the inner workings of the public library system. It means I have a library collection I maintain. And that means that, to be honest, I’m not as worried about the condition of my library books because I know the fate that awaits all library books.

That’s the thing about library copies: they’re finite. If you’ll pardon the expression, they have a shelf life. No library book lasts forever, because if it’s popular, enough handling will destroy it. How many times do you think a book can be checked out and read before it disintegrates? Well, depends on the book. I’ve seen hardcovers that survived ten years and roughly 100 check-outs before they had to be retired and I’ve seen paperbacks that destroyed themselves after five check-outs.

That doesn’t mean I’ll mistreat a library copy. It’s not mine, after all, and even we library workers have to pay for a book when we lose or destroy it. One of my life’s greatest shames is the fact that I lost a brand new copy of The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I still have no idea what happened to it.

When I read a library book, I know at some point that little book will be removed from circulation. It’s not meant to last forever. If it was, it would be in an archive. Or, as you’ll see now that I’m returning to my main point, in a private collection.

My signed copies are books that I want to keep with me for the rest of my life. Each one is special. It represents an experience I had both in reading it and taking the time to meet the person who wrote it; if I have a signed copy of your book, that means you’re part of my personal Pantheon of Writers. It’s not the greatest pantheon, all things considered, but how many people ever get to say they’re part of a pantheon in the first place? That has to count for something.

Signed copies are valuable and special things to me and while I know that part of a well-worn and tattered book is the mark of a book that’s been read and enjoyed, there’s enough of a draconic-hoarding tendency in me that I want my books to remain pristine. Which makes it tricky when I really, really want to read a book that I have a signed copy of and can’t easily get from the library due to the fact that it has a waiting list on it. When that happens, I have to make a hard choice.

In this particular instance, I’m going to be reading my signed copy of Faerie After because don’t want to wait for the library copy to come in.

But you can be certain I will be reading it very carefully. Possibly with gloves on.

I realize that this probably means I am a crazy person.

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