When it comes to books you can get close to, there’s something about paperback that really works for me. Hardbacks I associate with big important male writers who are a bit of a duty read. The ones the publishers spend all their advance money on. Look at me, look how clever, how knowing, how well read…
Go on, tell me of exceptions to this, I can take it: I admit, I generalise. And I do like those tiny old hardbacks that would fit in your pocket, but they stopped printing them a long way back. Possibly before I was born. Portability sacrificed in order to bump up cover price.
Is it the money, the fact a paperback is less shouty, less show-offy? Couldn’t tell you exactly but I find I can get closer to a softback book. I’ve been carrying this particular book of stories around with me these past few weeks reading and even rereading the stories in it, in a way I know I wouldn’t have done if it was a hardback.
I don’t often carry new books around in case they get lost or trashed; due to its slim size this one could be easily crammed into my backpack on the way to the Isle of Wight for Bestival. If you’ve been to Bestival you’ll know it’s not exactly a sit-down-and-read type event, but I’d long train journeys either side of it that were perfect for reading. Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s stories in Mother America lifted me off the crowded train and into other worlds: those of a maid fallen pregnant in Ireland long ago who had to fight to keep her child, those of modern families coping with surrogacy or infidelities, then back in time to a mother who moved to New York with her favourite son, only for him to press on to California without her and marry a woman she could never accept. The picture of motherhood painted by Ni Chonchuir is never rose-tinted — she has a knack for uncovering the little awkwardnesses of everyday life, and the larger ones too — and yet it is not overly bleak either. The blood, sweat and tears in these stories is the stuff of motherhood: it keeps the reader thinking long after every page has been read. By the time I was through with it this little paperback was crumpled and well worn. In Cork I had the option to buy a fresh copy and maybe give the first one away, but decided to stick with the one I had.
[PS I realise it seems odd to be thinking or writing about the merits of hardback vs paperback when everyone else seems to be thinking paper versus ebook. To be honest I’ve not really moved on to ebooks yet but I am finally about to get an ereader… So maybe more on that another time.]