The Matter with Books

by S.P. (Bookbarn International)

It is difficult to explain why books matter without sounding self absorbed, trite or falling into some self-fulfilling cliché, which just would not do when you are writing about a love of books.

Books matter, because we make them matter. We desire them, because they are desirable. Tautology aside, there are millions of reasons why millions of book lovers want to buy them. We should know, because we have sold millions of titles here at Bookbarn International (BBI).

At BBI we are always talking about books. It is our common language and one that we share with a global audience as varied as the typefaces, titles and the designs of the objects of their desire. Trying to analyse our customer’s love affair with a particular book is as troublesome as asking why some people fall in love with the wrong person or why some perfectly lovely people are destined to be alone. Part of that is because books, unique in a communication tool, can excite all the senses and perceptions; they can look right, feel luscious, even smell like a world forgotten.

The Penrose Annual 53

Some of our customers buy because they are trying to learn something, to explore, discover a new language, a new skill, or perhaps just to learn something about themselves. Some just want to be entertained, to be transported to an imaginative world where they can be safe alone within the pages of a book. Others buy books: to read aloud; to pass on the gift of a book; or to offer an insight into the wonderful world of words.

Some collect books like friends, the more rare and expensive the better. They come: to stroke our antiquarian books; admire particular bindings; and listen to the sound of pages turning. They allow themselves to fall into their own world where they are alone. Some buy books by the yard for design schemes, while others only have one precious copy of one special title, which is never to be shared with anyone else. At BBI, like not judging a book by its cover, we have learnt never to play cupid between books and the people who love them.

We have customers who collect chemistry textbooks, but only those published pre 1940, or books just because of their dust jacket. Others want to explore the world of books and this is where the ‘old’ world of the written word crosses into the virtual.

When we say browser, we do not mean a search engine for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources. We mean a person – a real live person – browsing the shelves of uncataloged books, looking for meaning, power and yes, sometimes, love.

Left on the shelf

It is self-evident that books still matter in a digital world. Otherwise we would not be here. Books allow the human imagination to escape the everyday physical world. They are true friends, they never leave you and like kindly dinner guests they speak volumes, but never misbehave. If that sounds a little whimsical then it is supposed to, because we all want a happy ending.


To accompany the 2014 Degree Show, the students from MA Graphic Arts, collaborated on a project responding to the theme of ‘Information and New Technology’. The final outcome was a double sided A2 map-fold print on 80 gsm (quantity 1000).  The above text was written for the project. Copies can be collected at the degree show.
As part of the research phase for the document we visited Bookbarn International (BBI), ‘one of the largest used booksellers in the UK with the most comprehensive and diverse range of antiquarian, rare and collectable books in the world’ to consider the idea of what a physical store of information is. We would like to thank the staff at BBI, and particulalry Susie Polakova, for their assistance.