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Size Matters

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Stack of mass market paperback books.

This is one of those things that might seem strange for a writer and avid reader to express, but I’ll take the risk.

I don’t read hardback books if I can help it.

There was a time when I had young reader dreams of the Beauty and the Beast library where I could spin around amidst the heavy, leather-bound books. I like the heft of pulling something off the library shelf, to feel the weight of the book in my hand, especially if it’s a big, meaty book like The Goldfinch or Anna Karenina.

But I live in the real world and carrying around a hardback book is too much.

When an author I love comes out with a new book, I will rush over to my favorite bookseller’s website only to discover the paperback will not be available for another six months. So I must wait. If I am desperate to get the content, I will listen to the audio. But mostly, I exercise patience.

I can’t carry a big book around.

I love all the book-porn images on social media where people sit in comfy chairs, under throws, and spend the day reading. For those people, a hardback book never leaves the house. And as much as I avoid leaving the house, I am still a parent, an instructor, and a human who lives in a world where the only way I can fit reading into my life is to do it from the stands while my kid practices flag football.

I have also seen students on my campus carrying around big heavy books, or more specifically, I see them in their hammocks reading big heavy books. This amazes me because they also have heavy textbooks to lug around.

Last week I discussed my love of reading on planes. But my intermingling of books and mobility is rooted in a long history of reading on the road.

The joke of my family was I was the kid reading in the back of the pickup truck at the rodeo. It’s actually a false narrative. I tried to avoid the rodeo as much as possible. I was absolutely the kid who read in the cab of the truck at the flea market. And to be able to do that, I needed to sneak a book into my bag so I would not hear a lecture from my mother about how I better not plan on reading all day when I am supposed to be selling.

This is also where my organizational skills took hold. I had to figure out a way to fit my headphones, walkman, multiple cassette tapes, journal or notebooks, a change of clothes in case of a rain out, lightweight jacket, snacks, and a book in my backpack for the fleamarket days, and sometimes weekends. I recently lamented this fact about my childhood in the most “back in my day” tone to Behr when I helped him pack his flight bag a few weeks ago.

Whatever book was going in the bag had to be small enough to fit and be hidden if necessary.

I’ll say it! Size matters.

My go-to book size now is the Trade Paperback size. These are basic bookstore paperbacks. They rest in a pile on a table when patrons walk into Barnes and Noble. They hit easily in my hand, are relatively lightweight depending on the page count, and fit easily into a tote bag. They can be folded back for one-handed reading, like when one is reading while sipping coffee. They look good on a bookshelf.

A table of trade paperback sizes at Barnes and Noble
A table of trade paperback sizes at Barnes and Noble

However, I will give a glorious shout-out to the mass-market paperback. These are the sized books that are usually devoted to genre work – romance books, sci-fi, horror, dad-core mysteries, and action thrillers. These books are chunky, about the size of a palm. They are completely designed for one-handed reading – specifically those romance novels.

Not only are they perfect for throwing in a bag, but there is also a casualness to those books. There is far less pressure to keep them clean and pretty the way other books are treated. You can throw those around, let them get soaked at the pool, or even lose them. They are often cheaper than any other book, so less of a financial loss if a copy is left at the gate at the airport or at Starbucks. And because they are often genre books, these are the books that are the most fun. These are the adventure stories – even the bodice-ripping romances are full of adventure.

What I find interesting is the number of taped-together mass-market paperbacks I have seen on my friends' bookshelves. Hubs has a copy of Steven King’s The Stand that represents his first Stephen King book and the memories of the summer he scared the crap out of himself reading it.

Mass-market books that shaped my reading habits include:

  • Delta of Venus by Anäis Nin: which was passed around my college friend group and was lost for some time before a friend found it in their stuff while moving and sent it right back.

  • Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block: which was purchased on a school trip to Atlanta. We took the MARTA to Dunwoody so we could shop at a Barnes and Noble, a store we did not have in our tiny Kentucky college town.

  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: a book I was never assigned to read at school and my first winter home from college felt like I needed to remedy it as soon as possible.

  • Billy Bob Walker Got Married: this book is the best romance book I have ever read, specifically to me because it is set in the country in Tennessee near where I grew up.

The mass-market size – because of its relatively low price – is a size that I think shoppers and readers are more likely to take a chance on. For eReaders, it’s the equivalent of the free or $.99 purchases. Readers are also more likely to take a chance when they are younger, so often the mass-market paperback purchased at a grocery store, airport, Target, etc, are the ones people end up falling in love with because it’s new and exciting. Like a surprise. Later they might repurchase the book in a more reasonable size, or not. They might continue to retape the first yellowing and brittle copy again and again.

I’ve noticed more mass-market books on my shelf lately, and it’s nice to see their small but mighty presence on my bookshelf.

What size book do you prefer to read? Or maybe you are an eReader who likes the convenience of having all your books on one tidy device. Share with me on Instagram or Twitter.

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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