Barnes & Noble Collectible Classics: Rediscover the Joy of Reading

(Disclaimer: this article is not sponsored by Barnes & Noble or any other affiliate – I purchased the books described in the article with my own means)

I’ll say it up front, I’m one of those people who have (unjustly) abandoned paper books for more accessible, easily portable digital editions. E-readers like Amazon’s Kindle have been a real revolution for me, enabling me to take my favorite books with me wherever I go, whether on vacation or on public transport, and finally give me back the taste for reading that I’d lost a little while ago when I got too caught up in the cotton-candy screens of my smartphone.

I still remember the time when, in preparation for a two-week trip, my mother would load her suitcase with two or three novels the size of a telephone directory, which we then had to lug around for the duration of the journey. I think back to our school bags, fully loaded with books for the day, which we then had to take home to do our homework. The same goes for the university and its library. In the end, I say to myself that the advent of tablets and e-readers has been a good thing for humanity, even if they have dealt a blow to chiropractors, osteopaths and rheumatologists.

From print to e-readers… and back to print

But a few weeks ago I realized that I wasn’t really reading anymore, that my Kindle had been gathering dust and running out of battery for months, and that I’d once again slipped into the paradoxically pleasant and tangy, but dull, pool offered by my smartphone, to consume ultimately unrewarding content gleaned from social networks.

My brain was craving real content, something stimulating that would give me that feeling of looking forward to lying down on my sofa and reading a book. And that’s when, through an Instagram post, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft.

By reading his Wikipedia page, and a summary of his work, I serendipitously found myself on Amazon. For $2 I bought the Kindle version of The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales (little financial risk if Lovecraft’s fictional universe wasn’t my cup of tea after all). And, oh, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was so hooked, I wanted to go further, because I’d finally found a book that deserved better than a Kindle version. I wanted the full, tactile experience, to feel like I was reading some kind of ancient, mysterious grimmoir. And that’s when I came across the Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions series. It was love at first sight.

Interesting AND Beautiful books: The Grail for book lovers

Hardback and leatherbound books possess a kind of mysterious aura, as if they hold secrets whose richness is proportional to the care with which their covers are crafted. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But sometimes the covers of certain books are so richly executed, it’s hard to stick to the old saying. And never mind if a book isn’t a literary revelation, we can always turn it into a beautiful decorative object.

In fact, I have at home some very fine specimens of antique history, geography, navigation and travel books in French, German and English dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, inherited from my grandparents, who themselves inherited them from their grandparents. But the style of writing, too sustained, too technical and a little too dusty for my taste, never got me hooked. After the first 10 pages, they went to join their leather-covered comrades in the library, decorated with gold or silver lettering, to continue gathering dust for years. So I had given up hope of finding an interesting and beautiful book. Until a few weeks ago.

Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions: classic titles with beautifully designed covers that bring joy to any shelf

A beautiful book isn’t everything. It also has to be interesting! And when it has both of these attributes, it makes a fantastic object. Barnes and Noble’s original series of leather-bound “exclusive” classic editions is very decorative, with its beautiful, brightly colored covers. Personally, I think anything that encourages people to pick up a classic novel and read it is a good thing. Most books in the series feature decorative headbands and tailbands, gilt or stained page edges, silk ribbon bookmarks and decorative hubs on the spine.

Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions: how good is it?

Now to address the burning question: are Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions books as high-quality as those from publishers specializing in leather-bound editions? The answer is no. However, considering their price, they offer remarkable value. Most books in the collectible classics series feature “bonded” leather covers. This material is a combination of genuine leather scraps and fibers mixed with faux leather (typically a polyurethane binder), all rolled together with adhesive glue and affixed to a paper backing. Due to their hybrid binding—where most signatures are both sewn and glued to the spine—if the books lie flat, the glue’s durability is compromised. Additionally, the illustrations in these books are often scanned from reprints rather than original artworks, resulting in less sharpness.

But then again, what more can you ask for at this price? I don’t think this will be one of those books passed down from generation to generation. But that’s not the motivation behind this purchase; I gave it to myself for personal enjoyment. And there’s no guarantee that my daughter or her children, if she has any, will find the same pleasure in reading H.P. Lovecraft or the authors of the Classic Supernatural Stories edition (another book in the Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classic Collection that I bought) as I did.

Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions: do the books keep their value?

Given their reasonable pricing and relative durability, Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions are one of those rare series that tend to maintain their value. However, it’s important to note that collecting this series with the expectation of significant resale profit is not advisable. The books are printed in large quantities, and most titles remain widely available.

The Bottom line: is it worth it to invest a little more in a beautiful book?

If today the automatism of picking up my smartphone or turning on the television is replaced by reading a book whose content I enjoy, along with the feel of the pages and cover, and the smell of leather that emanates from it, then that’s good enough for me. Can a beautiful book really cure alexitimia? I don’t know (probably not systematically).

But in my case, I can truly say that with its Collectible Editions, Barnes & Noble has (re)awakened the pleasure of reading and of getting back to basics, of giving oneself time. And that’s something I really appreciate. I used to lament the fact that I no longer read real books, and I used to tell myself that one day, far from now, I’d find that pleasure again. I’m glad that it happened long before I expected it to.