55 Books: Books as Places

In June I self published my book. By the end of 2019 I had sold 55 copies. 55 copies of poetry kindly bought by friends and friends of friends.

I recently watched the new adaptation of Little Women. One of my favorite scenes was Jo March watching the first copies of her book being made. I have always loved the physicality of books, although I own a kindle now, when I was younger I was quite vocal about my preference for physical books, and I still prefer reading the printed word on pages I can put my finger in-between and mark with a pen.

Books are not only physical objects; they take up space and so they are places. They are small places. A copy of my book has a volume of around 10.8 cubic inches; it takes up roughly the same amount of space as a tennis ball. But the surface area of a book is much larger.

Jo laying out the pages of her book

Another scene I loved in Little Women was when Jo spreads her manuscript across her room, moving around pages, making adjustments, surveying her work with her mother. For a while her novel was her room — a place that she can survey and change. If the 60 pages of my book were spread out they would take up 22.5 square feet — not a large amount of space but its not a large book.

Anyone who has read Little Women or any other novel know that this sense of place extends beyond the medium of bound pages. Books becomes places in your mind, places you can explore in your imagination even while the physical book remains closed. This was one of the reasons I decided to self-publish some of my poems. I knew that I could have submitted them for publication, or kept them for myself but I wanted to create a place for them — to curate where they lived, who their neighbors were, and how they were adorned.

It was undeniably cool to hold the first copies of my book in my hands but it wasn’t nearly as cool as I thought it would be. As someone who has always dreamed of publication, often in the context of it being a life changing event analogous to winning the lottery, my life changed hardly at all. But the lasting, quieter joy from 2019 has been seeing my book in the hands of friends.

I am not skilled in hospitality. My room is messy more often than I care to admit. Often I prefer a quiet evening rather than hosting a dinner party. But as friends have told me they’ve read my book or bought a copy for their friend I feel a bit like a host giving a tour of the house he designed, or a gardener walking through rows of tomatoes and corn in August showing the fruit of his labor.

55 books is not much to write home about. The royalties I’ve received barely cover the price of my ISBN number. But if it was about money I wouldn’t have gone into poetry. One of the things it is about is creating spaces and sharing that space with others. 55 books may not make much of a house, but at 1237.5 square feet, it is a decent apartment.

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