In Praise of the Trade Paperback

Books come in many shapes and sizes. Small books, big books, long books, short books (as Dr. Seuss might say). They come in different colors, with different pictures on their covers (or no pictures at all). They have tiny writing or big, bold letters with 3-inch margins. Almost no two books are the same. However, there is one type of book that I always prefer over any other — the trade paperback.

Types of Books

For the most part, books come in two different general types: Hardcover and paperback. Hardcover speaks for itself — it’s any book that has a hard cover. Paperback books, though, get further broken up into trade paperback and mass market paperback. Trade paperbacks are, for the most part, a bit larger than mass market paperback books, printed on higher quality paper with a larger, more spread out font and printing style. Mass market paperbacks, are smaller in size and printed on lower quality paper. These are the types of books you’ll see at airport newsstands. Wikipedia has a great article on paperbacks that really defines the differences between the two types of paperbacks.

Why Trade Paperbacks Rock

This article, however, is my “shout out” for the trade paperback. Many people claim that the hardcover version of a book is the best. While it is often the best in terms of simple quality (the paper, the ink, etc.), from the practical standpoint of actually being able to read a book, nothing beats the trade paperback.

Trade paperback books have many advantages over both hardcover and mass market paperback books. First, they are generally easy to leave open flat on a table without breaking the bindings. For someone who loves to read while eating, this is almost a necessity. You can sometimes do this with a hardcover once you’ve read a quarter of the way through it, but you’ll have no chance doing this with a mass market paperback.

Second, they are just the right weight. Certain hardcover books can almost throw your back out when you’re trying to carry them in a backpack, not to mention the amount of room they take up. Mass market paperbacks, on the other hand, sometimes don’t have any real weight or heft to them. With a trade paperback, you feel like there’s some substance there, but you won’t have to “lift with your legs” to pick it up.

Third, they are just the right quality. The margins in trade paperbacks are generous, so you don’t feel like the publisher tried to squeeze every inch out of the page. Unlike mass market paperbacks, you don’t have to bend the binding just to read the words close to the center of the book. The paper is thick enough, too, to keep from bending when something in your bag rubs up against it.

And last, but not least, they look nice on the shelf. I’ve never been a big fan of the hardcover dust jackets. In fact my wife and I removed all the dust jackets from our hard cover books that we keep up on the shelves. I’ve also never thought that mass market paperbacks look great on a shelf either. Mass market paperbacks and hard cover books both suffer from too much conformity. For the most part, they’re all the same size. On a bookshelf, this is kind of boring for the eye. Trade paperbacks come in all different colors and sizes, and this can add depth and interest to any shelf.

Of course, my adoration for the trade paperback can sometimes leave me wanting. Most publishers publish the hardcover version of a book first, with any form of paperback coming at least six months after that. This means that I have to wait to get my hands on the newest book. For example, right now I’d really like to get Anathem by Neil Stephenson. It looks like a very interesting read, and I’ve enjoyed Mr. Stephenson’s books in the past. However, the only version available right now is the hardcover version. The book is very large, and the weight of the hardcover version could probably knock a small child unconscious.

So, I wait.

Maybe one day, publishers will know that there are people like me craving the trade paperback version of their latest title. Until then, I’ll just try not to look at the new hardcover displays.

Are you a trade paperback fanatic? If not, what’s your favorite style of book. Tell us in the comments.

One thought on “In Praise of the Trade Paperback

  1. Pingback: In praise of the trade paperback « My Year in Books

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