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The great question ... which I have not been able to answerm despite my thirty years of research into the feminine sould, is "What does a woman want?" - Sigmund Freud

Sir Hiram Maxim, the knight from Maine, prophesies that we shall change our religion twenty times in the next twenty thousand years. In the last two thousand years we have changed our book material twice, from papyrus to parchment and from parchment to paper, with a consequent change of the book form from the roll to the codex. Shall we therefore change our book material twenty times in the next twenty thousand years? Only time itself can tell; but for five hundred years the book has never been in such unstable equilibrium as at present; the proverb "A book's a book" has never possessed so little definite meaning. This condition applies chiefly to the paper, but as this changes, the binding will also change from its present costly and impermanent character to something at once cheaper and more durable.

The changes in modern paper have worked in two opposite directions, represented on the one hand by Oxford India paper, with its miraculous thinness, opacity, and lightness, and on the other hand by papers that, while also remarkably light, offer, as a sample book expresses it, "excellent bulk"; for instance, 272 pages to an inch as against 1500 to an inch of Oxford India paper.[3] The contrasted effects of these two types of material upon the book as a mechanical product are well worth the consideration of all who are engaged in the making of books.

Some of these results are surprising. What, for instance, could be more illogical than to make a book any thicker than strength and convenience require? Yet one has only to step out into the markets where books and buyers meet to find a real demand for this excess of bulk. Though illogical, the demand for size in books is profoundly psychological and goes back to the most primitive instincts of human nature. The first of all organs in biological development, the stomach, will not do its work properly unless it has quantity as well as quality to deal with. So the eye has established a certain sense of relationship between size and value, and every publisher knows that in printing from given plates he can get twice as much for the book at a trifling excess of cost if he uses thicker paper and gives wider margins. That all publishers do not follow these lines is due to the fact that other elements enter into the total field of bookselling besides quantity, the chief of which is cost, and another of which, growing in importance, is compactness. But it is safe to say that to the buyer who is not, for the moment at least, counting the cost, mere bulk makes as great an appeal as any single element of attractiveness in the sum total of a book.

This attraction of bulk receives a striking increase if it is associated with lightness. The customer who takes up a large book and suddenly finds it light to hold receives a pleasurable shock which goes far towards making him a purchaser. He seems not to ask or care whether he may be getting few pages for his money. The presence of this single, agreeable element of lightness at once gives a distinction to the book that appears to supplant all other requirements. The purchaser does not realize that the same lightness of volume associated with half the thickness would not seem to him remarkable, though the book would take up only half the room on his shelves. He feels that a modern miracle in defiance of gravitation has been wrought in his favor, and he is willing to pay for the privilege of enjoying it.

Curiously and somewhat unexpectedly the results of neither extreme, thick paper nor thin, are wholly satisfactory in the library. The parvenu, who is looking only to the filling up of his shelves with volumes of impressive size, may find satisfaction in contemplating wide backs. But the scholar and the public librarian will grudge the space which this "excellent bulk" occupies. One single element in their favor he will be quick to recognize, the better space which they afford for distinct lettering. In a private library that is collected for use and not for show the thin-paper books are almost an unmixed blessing. They cost little for what they contain. Their reduction in thickness is often associated with a reduction in height and width, so that they represent an economy of space all round. A first-rate example of this is furnished by the Oxford India Paper Dickens, in seventeen volumes, printed in large type, yet, as bound, occupying a cubical space of only 13 by 7 by 4-1/2 inches and weighing only nine pounds. A more startling instance is that of the novels of Thomas Love Peacock, which are issued in a pretty library edition of ten volumes. But they are also issued in a single volume, no higher nor wider, and only three-fourths of an inch thick. But it is at this point that the public librarian rises to protest. It is all very well, he says, for the private owner to have his literature in this concentrated form, but for himself, how is he to satisfy the eight readers who call for "Headlong Hall," "Nightmare Abbey," and the rest of Peacock's novels all at once? To be sure he can buy and catalogue eight single-volume sets of the author's works instead of one set in ten volumes, and when he has done this each reader will be sure to find the particular novel that he is looking for so long as a set remains; but the cost will naturally be greater. On the other hand, he welcomes equally with the private buyer the thin-paper edition of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, which needs only a third of the shelf space required for the regular edition, seven-sixteenths of an inch as against an inch and five-sixteenths. He also looks upon his magazine shelves and sees a volume of the "Hibbert Journal" with 966 pages in large type occupying the space of a volume of the "Independent" with 1788 pages in fine type, or again he sees by the side of his thin-paper edition of Dickens another on heavy paper occupying more than three times the lineal space with no advantage in clearness of type. By this time he is ready to vote, in spite of the occasional disability of overcompactness, for the book material that will put the least strain upon his crowded shelves. A conference with the booksellers shows him that he is not alone in this conclusion. Certain standard works, like the Oxford Book of English Verse and Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, have almost ceased to be sold in any but the thin-paper editions. Then there dawns upon him the vision of a library in which all books that have won their way into recognition shall be clothed in this garb of conciseness, and in which all that aspire to that rank shall follow their example. In short he sees what he believes to be the book of the future, which will be as different from the book of the present as that is from the parchment book of the early and middle ages of the Christian era, and as different in binding as it is in material. The realization of this vision will involve first of all a readjustment of values on the part of the public, an outgrowing of its childish admiration for bulk. But this change is coming so rapidly under the stress of modern conditions of crowding, especially in city life, as to reduce the vision from its prophetic rank to a case of mere foresight.

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