The Value of an Unread Book

Something occurred to me today.

I can understand collecting pristine, unused stamps — keeping them safe, away from light, and only looking at them now and then.

And I can understand collecting postcards which have never been sent, never manhandled or crushed or stained in the mail.

I can even understand keeping collectible action figures in their original, unopened packages. (My Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde action figures are still in theirs, though I have very nearly decided to let them free so they can run about the house and nibble on erasers and whatever else unsupervised action figures do…)

But for some reason, I am quite disturbed by the thought of books remaining untouched and unread so that they keep their value.

To me, an antique book with pages that have never been cut, and must never be cut (to keep the value high), is like a bottle of fine wine which is kept so long it spoils. It just seems wrong.

I’m not certain if there’s a logic behind this feeling of mine, or only my emotional attachment to reading. After all, why not have an unblemished first-edition on the shelf, and read a cheaper, battered copy?

And am I being hypocritical? After all, I have on occasion read a library copy of a book I own, to keep mine in tip-top shape. (Or, as tip-top shape as my books are ever in. I do try, but I’ve moved too many times to keep the dust jackets perfect.)

So…what do you think? Do you approve of can’t-be-read collectible books? Do you ever read cheaper/newer/library copies to keep your treasured books in good shape?

All answers welcome!!!

Cara King, who thinks people should feel free to read a first-edition copy of MY LADY GAMESTER anytime they wish

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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14 years ago

It does seem a waste for these books to be unread, but I like to keep my autographed copies of books in pristine shape. I either borrow a copy or I buy another used copy on eBay when I want to read that book.

14 years ago

I think that if I were ever rich enough to afford good OLD bound books in leather and gold, I’d just paw them like a miser and would read paperback copies of them, but other than that books are to be read, loved, read in bed, read in the bath, dropped, rolled on. If they get damaged too much then I buy another copy which is good news for the authors!

I feel the same way about wine too. What’s the bloody POINT?

14 years ago

oh no..
books are ment to be read..
I would feel sorrow see a book which has not reached its aim..
I think the more read.. the most valuable.. the soul and ideas of people who read them must hide between the pages..
they have to be kept
in good condition…
but first they have to disperse the beauty of the words they contain….
mankind may invest in different things.. but books..
that is my..opinion..

I have started to write my comment as a good old friend..
but as I am visiting your blog for quite a long time now.. this is how I feel .. altough you don’t know me.. =)

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Oh, books are meant to be read! Just like valuable musical instruments that are hundreds of years old are still played…that’s what they were made for. Of course valuable books and instruments should be treated with loving care and not given to just anyone to read or play. But leaving them forever behind glass cabinets seems like burying them alive.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Part of what I love about old books is that other hands have read them. It makes me feel I’m connected to those people from the past. I’d love to think of some society miss who was gleeful to own her own copy of Sense and Sensibility and to think of her fingers turning the same pages as I would be turning….not that I could ever own a first edition of S&S….

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I don’t have any valuable first editions (I have a few kind of expensive research books, but since they were bought for a purpose they do get read!). But if I did have a signed 1st edition of, say, “Middlemarch”, I would probably just sit and hold it reverently, and read my old paperback. πŸ™‚

I love to imagine what books I would buy, if I could afford it. A First Folio maybe…

14 years ago

Well, the thing is I just don’t get it either. When I was a kid, I opened my Star Wars figures and played with them. When I was in high school I got my Star Trek figures and opened them and displayed them (although you really had to be careful how you put the phaser in the male character figures hands. . . it kind of looked like something was sticking out, if you know what I mean. LOLOL). My Phantom Christmas ornaments are totally out of their boxes and looking back at me from across the room.

And I read all the books I have autographed. Granted, I’m one of those who hates cracking that spine and I could probably put my books back on the shelves at a bookstore and they’ll never notice the difference. LOL

But in the end, I want to enjoy what it is I get. If I was all of sudden a billionaire and I could get a copy of an autographed P&P by Jane, I probably wouldn’t touch it a lot, but I’m still going to want to touch it at some point.

Now, just to become a millionaire, and discover that Jane Austen signed a copy with her name sometime in the past! LOL πŸ™‚


Kalen Hughes
14 years ago

To me, an antique book with pages that have never been cut, and must never be cut (to keep the value high), is like a bottle of fine wine which is kept so long it spoils. It just seems wrong.

It’s not a book, it’s an object. Books exist to be read. That’s their purpose. Unhook them from their purpose and they’re not books anymore (kind of like on Firefly where River explains that the cows weren’t cows when they were in space).

14 years ago

Hmm… I can understand wanting to keep my copies beautiful, but within reason–I do agree that books were meant to be read, and that the value of the book is in the words. So I think I’d read my collector copies, but I’d avoid snacking with them πŸ˜‰

14 years ago

I know that I re-read first edition ‘My Lady Gamester’ over and over again.

I have read a couple of old tomes and do so sparingly. I’m always afraid the pages will slip out. But then I could use those binding hints Diane gave us a while back.

Cara King
14 years ago

Jane — nice to know I’m not the only one who’s ever done such a thing with autographed books! I recall after I got my first autographed Jo Beverley (years ago), I wouldn’t let anyone borrow it. (Lucky for me, I owned another copy which I could lend out…)

Erastes, I’m with you on most of your list! Though I do worry about the bath thing…though maybe it’s just because I can’t seem to read in the bath without getting the book a bit wet!

Pinar — thanks for posting! And what a lovely post! Like a poem. I love the image of the book being more valuable the more it’s read — it makes a lot of emotional sense. Certainly as writers, we want to be read! And I wonder how those authors feel who sell a lot of books that people never read…

Lois, LOL about the phasers! And when you’re a millionaire, I’m going to visit you and read your books. πŸ™‚

Santa — thanks so much!!!


14 years ago

All of my (many,many) Nightmare Before Christmas collectibles are displayed sans boxes. I don’t care about their value. They are my toys. I love them and play with them and that makes them valuable to me. Same goes for my Severus Snape action figure who watches over all my writing, wand raised.

I agree with Diane. When I read an old book from the library it’s as if I can feel all the fingers that have turned the pages before and the minds that absorbed the words. That’s why I love libraries.

A book kept solely for its monetary value becomes like a work of art kept in a corporate vault.

And first editions kept for value remind me of the film Penelope, which is out on DVD today. It’s a sweet and somewhat silly little gem of a movie. But I loved it. And will buy it. And watch it!

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

I do buy a reading copy of all of my autographed books because I want to keep them in good shape. They have their own bookshelf.

But a book is meant to be read. I love the look and feel of old books, the connection with everyone who has read it before me.

My prized possession is my first edition Byron. It is NOT in perfect condition. The spine is really rough looking, but the rest of it is beautiful. It sits on a pedestal in my writing studio. My late DH bought it for me after he got his first big contract with a psychiatric hospital. (He was a shrink.) And yes, I do open it and read it on occasion, but very, very gently.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

I adore old books with margin notes. I like to see what they thought when they were reading the books. I want to see how they wrote their names, how handwriting has changed over the years. I own a botany text from the mid-1800s, and I’ve not only read it, but have done so many times; the latter ones not for the knowledge but for the pleasure of the aroma of the book, the texture of the pages, the visual of the font and the illustrations…

None of my autographed books are unread. I’m careful with them, but not to the point of ridiculousness, like wearing gloves and opening them a crack to squint and read.

My daughter has always owned books since she was a wee babe, and I have bought miles of sticky tape, but we’ve never discouraged her from “reading” them.

My Nora Roberts and Jane Austen action dolls get played with all the time. Ms. Wee can recognize La Nora on sight and by voice (courtesy Romance Novel TV). They’ve inspired two short-short (fantasy) stories.

14 years ago

There’s a Nora Roberts doll?

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Yep, Jane. A signed bobble-head.

14 years ago

Whenever I buy I new pair of shoes, I always wonder if I should wear them, or preserve them in pristine condition. Who knows what a mint quality pair of Keds will be worth someday?


14 years ago

I don’t think I could leave a book unread. Unlike a toy in it’s original packaging where you can still see the toy, a book is meant to be opened. It would seem strange to just stare at the cover.

Cara King
14 years ago

Georgie wrote:

It would seem strange to just stare at the cover.

Or even pet it!

Um…I’m not the only one here who pets her books, am I? You know what I mean — pick them up, smell them, touch the edges of the pages, that sort of thing… πŸ™‚