Hardcover or paperback? Illustrations or just text? First editions or you don’t care? Signed by the author or not?Well, there was a time when M and I had visions of collecting antique books and first editions. And we even have a few very nice modern firsts in our library. But until recent years, we've always lived a fairly nomadic – and frugal – lifestyle; not the sort of existence that encourages the accumulation of expensive, valuable items. That hasn't prevented us from amassing a huge collection of books, of course. These days, if I'm buying a hardcover edition of a newly or recently published book, I always do try to buy the first edition. But for older books, I'm usually not that picky. Really, the only books I actually collect are editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice books and Twain's Huck Finn. And none of those are particularly valuable – just different editions of two of my favorite books.
The hardcover vs. paperback question is a tough one. In general, I always prefer hardcovers for my library. But for actual reading purposes, I'm not terribly particular. Hardcover books are nice because they generally stay open to the page you're reading. But paperbacks are usually lighter weight and more portable – they can be stashed in handbags and backpacks more easily. Also, the cover art on a paperback edition can frequently be much more interesting than its hardcover equivalent.
Signed by author? Well, we probably do have some books in our library that were signed by the authors. I can think of at least one textbook signed by one of our old college professors. And I'm sure there are at least a couple signed by M's colleagues or grad school pals. But other than those few, if the book has an author's signature in it, the signature was there when the book came into our collection. I've never been much of an autograph-seeker.
Ah, but illustrations – now there's something I have a definite opinion about. I love illustrations. I think all books should have them. Not to the point of turning them into "graphic novels," I suppose. But I'd like every one of my books to have a few nice illustrations. That was one thing I liked about the books by the late novelist John Gardner – he always insisted that his publisher include illustrations with his work. And Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy mysteries always have a few illustrations of Mrs. M, the "tiger cat," and her Corgi pal Tucker. Just a little something to jazz up the text a bit, and give your eyes something to rest on besides the old Times Roman for a while.