Is the beauty of a book found in its wear and tear or the fresh turn of a page?Edit by Grace Cobb

David Quinn, in defence of the new book:

Sifting through a new addition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (pretentious – yes, but self-aware), I have come to appreciate what a new book can offer. Sure, a new book doesn’t yet have contain a history within or have that distinctive musty smell, but does it need to? What it can offer is a book that is yet to have had its history made, a book that (like my now less than pristine Hamlet) is beginning to gain inscriptions, dents and the little sings that make it a unique copy.

“What is more tempting than the unknown, the yet to be, the potential of each turn of the page?”

An unbroken spine is an invitation to break into something unexpected. What is more tempting than the unknown, the yet to be, the potential of each turn of the page? You are the first person to have read that specific type, huddled it in bed, or lost it in a grassy field. It is not just the smell of a new book that is fresh, it is also its ideas.

Furthermore, new books provide the opportunities to revisit old favourites. While I will always love my battered copy of The Sonnets, the clothbound classic edition allowed me to fall in love again with the words that had first hooked me in (not to mention how incredible the intricate design looks on a bookshelf and feels in a hand). The Penguin Classics also provide copious introductions and annotations that flesh out the worlds of the books and their writers (though this is no guarantee that Finnegans’ Wake makes any more sense annotated).

New books are also the future of books. A hardback you buy today may well become tomorrow’s classic. I can remember first finding Katherine Rundell’s superb study of John Donne when it came out, only for it then to go on and win the Bailee Gifford Award later that year. The book was so popular that its print run completely sold out and my own copy gained a new significance to me (alongside some slight monetary value).

“An author’s future may well be in your hands, quite literally”

If we don’t buy new books, there won’t be new books. New and upcoming authors may not have the chance to become second-hand favourites if the book industry is left to algorithms (or worse, found on Kindles). An author’s future may well be in your hands, quite literally.

Peter Rusafov, in defence of second-hand:

While cooped up in my room over the coronation weekend – my efforts at revision undercut by an embarrassingly obstinate red wine hangover – I leafed, idly, through my collection of bedside literature. Failing to sink my teeth into a National Geographic column on the beauty of the garden ant, I tossed the magazine aside, and replaced it with a copy of Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing. It was a recent acquisition, snatched up from a kilo sale over the Easter holidays, but the cover was already wreathed with the dust of neglect. The pages – tinted the soft, murky yellow of old paper – were peppered with annotations, each pencilled into the margins by an unknown hand.

“It was strangely comforting, as though I had unlocked a time capsule, or made a new friend”

Over the next few hours, I spent as much time deciphering these doodles as I did reading the book itself, feeling privy to an almost apocryphal experience as I did so. The text, as an organic body, came to life, straining against the membrane of authorial conception into the shared experience of a community of readers. It was strangely comforting, as though I had unlocked a time capsule, or made a new friend.

This metatextual richness is at the heart of my love for second-hand books. Each scribble, creased page, and roughly-thumbed coffee stain is an inheritance, superimposed upon the text for successive readers to add to. It is an inheritance of charity shops and flea markets, late nights and early mornings, drinks poured and drinks spilled. It is a suffusion of memories, personal and collective, that the starch-white pages of a new print just cannot aspire to.


Mountain View

Lego flowers: simply strange or sweet and sentimental?

Of course, not everybody sees it that way. Scouring the internet for more edifying ways of expressing myself, I came across a 2008 Guardian piece by Chas Newkey-Burden, in which he likens used books to “sloppy seconds, a salad bar in a staff canteen at the end of a hot weekday, or a recently-vacated cubicle in a public toilet.” Although the images are meant to be unsavoury, the intended revulsion does not materialise. Going where others have been before you – the sharing of space, physical or textual – does not need to be unsavoury. There is beauty to be found in life’s twilight moments, be they well-trodden paths, stuffy salad bars, or yellowing pages. And what is wear and tear, after all, but the legacy of acts of love?