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Today (being several weeks prior to the publish date of this post), I pre-ordered a book. A book, which I already own in multiple formats. It’s on my Kindle. It’s on my audible. I have a paper copy or three. And yet, I found myself charging $55 to my credit card for a pre-order of the tenth anniversary SIGNED copy of The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss. It is not my favorite book, but it is the most well-written story I have ever read and definitely makes my top 5 list. Every single element in the story is beautifully fleshed out– but sometimes you don’t realize it until you have read the second book and go back to re-read the first book.
O.M.G. Did I mention it’s SIGNED?!
I do my best to limit my collection of excess stuff. I try not to buy things just to keep around the house, taking up space. I have very limited success with this (don’t ask me about my sewing supplies), but books are one of the things that I am actually reasonably successful in not over-collecting. If I like a book well enough to keep a paper copy on my shelf at home, then I feel like I like it well enough to share it with someone else. Mostly though, I keep my collections digital– kindle and audible versions if the book is so good that I can’t stop reading it for long enough to put it down. This allows me to do things like wash dishes, pick up around the house, and drive myself to work.
And what is it about a signed copy that makes a book special anyway? It’s not like I’ll ever meet Neil Gaiman or Patrick Rothfuss or Brandon Sanderson. Authors of that ilk do not get up to Alaska on business very often– though if they ever did, they totally have a standing invitation to come to my house for a homecooked meal and a cell phone picture of my dogs getting cozy with them on the couch. I have never gotten more than the signature– even when purchasing books where the author indicates they will doodle in the pages if there’s time or stick in some stickers or other goodies. It’s basically the same book you’d find in any bookstore, but with some scribbles in.
Realistically, I know there’s nothing that special about a signed copy of a book, especially considering that someone opened all the books and laid them out in large stacks to be hastily signed by the author between attempts to release the cramps from his fingers. “Only 4,739 books to go,” he’ll tell himself. Definitely not the image of the author kindly cradling the book in his hands, carefully opening the cover, wincing slightly at the sound of the spine cracking, and carefully penning his name before closing the cover with an expression of peace on his face. No– he’s probably cursing his own fame and asking himself, “Why do people pay for this? Don’t they know that I can’t write for weeks after these 18-hour signing marathons?” Or, maybe he’s saying to his assistant, “Please remind me to never agree to this again. My bones can’t take it. Are you sure you can’t hire a gifted forger to complete these mountain of books for me?” The exception being, of course, that several authors enjoy signing their books while passing through busy airports. Mr. Gaiman, I will be in Seattle in October, and Mr. Sanderson, I will be in Salt Lake in December. Alaska Airlines terminals. Hint, hint!
And yet, I love signed copies. I treasure them. I have a running list of books in my head that I’d like to have signed. I feel like books are special in and of themselves, and to have the author put his name inside the cover feels like a special kind of claiming. The author struggled over the creation of this book, and his signature feels like it sets the copy I have apart from all the copies mass-produced at the same time. I’m not affluent enough to own signed first edition prints– except for perhaps, my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. A stroke a good fortune– Neil sent out a blast that a particular bookstore would have signed copies for sale online– and a few weeks later, the book arrived at my house, and I read it, cover-to-cover in one sitting on my couch only to move upstairs to my bedroom and repeat the whole story over again.
I like to consider that maybe when I am old I will have a small, treasured trunk of my favorite books– many of them signed– a throwback to decades ago when I was around for the first run edition of my favorites.