In the final track of the classic Smiths’ album, The Queen is Dead, Morrissey croons his tardy discovery that “some girls are bigger than others.” The same is true of paperbacks. And size, as they say, matters. There’s a power of attraction in gratuitous endowment. By force of its own mass, and regardless of subject matter, a large paperback generates a kind of gravitational pull. Do laws of physics place any ultimate constraints on size? At what point will glue binding simply fail? And is that fail-point determined by the total number of pages or the total weight of pages? Such are the mysteries of love. But while oversized hardbounds revolve in our eyes like solemn Jupiters of desire, absurdly thick paperbacks draw us in like insatiable black holes, concentrating acquisitional lust in objects deliciously balanced between virginal modesty and button-bursting extravagance.
Note how careful I am not to crease their spines in the act of love. Clarel, Herman Melville (Northwestern University Press): 893 pages; The Bible with Apocrypha (Oxford World’s Classics): 1824 pages; Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (New York Review of Books): 1382 pages; Tales and Sketches, Nathaniel Hawthorne (Library of America): 1200 pages.