FRESNO, Calif. — Fresno’s Natalie Margulis grew up loving books _ reading them, memorizing passages from favorites like “David Copperfield” or “Treasure Island,” and reciting them to her parents.
That early passion for the printed word grew and now the 24-year-old Fresno State University student shares her 1,000-square-feet downtown apartment with most of the 10,000 books she owns.
The 40-feet-long south wall is lined from floor to ceiling with custom-built shelves holding orderly rows of books. Smaller shelves dot the living room and bedroom. A small closet is loaded with the overflow she can’t display in the apartment or at a storage space in Clovis, Calif. Even the shelf above her kitchen cabinets is loaded with coffee-table books.
Margulis has grown up during the ascension of electronic books, but this bibliophile prefers print.
“More and more today, I hear of printed media being replaced by digital means,” Margulis says. “Although I, of course, understand and appreciate this brave new world of technology, the tactile experience of reading a book is something that I don’t know will ever be entirely antiquated.”
The collecting part of her book passion didn’t really kick in until she met her boyfriend, Brian Jones, who shares her ardor for books and has the carpentry skills to build the shelving.
Amassing the collection has become easier in recent years.
As more people read on electronic devices, more printed books are donated. Every week the couple browses thrift stores, library sales and estate sales where books can go for pennies. It’s rare that they spend more than $5 on a find.
Margulis even picked up an autographed copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” at a local thrift store. It cost her a dime.
John Huckans, editor and publisher of www.booksourcemagazine.com, says collectors like Margulis are “ahead of the curve.” He likens them to billionaire Warren Buffet, who’s been snapping up newspapers at a time when some say they’re out of fashion. Buying second-hand books can be a treasure hunt. She’s found anything from newspaper clippings to old psychiatrist appointment slips in her purchases. One book had a hidden compartment cut into the pages. So far, she hasn’t found money.
Although she owns paperbacks, the books that she displays in her apartment are hardbacks, most with the original dust jackets. That’s one reason Margulis prefers printed books over electronic versions.
“You can find out a lot about the history of the book with the dust jacket. There’s so much to learn about the author, the book and even printing you just can’t get the other way,” Margulis says. “I will buy a book if it doesn’t have a dust jacket if it’s something I really want, but I always like to get it with the jacket.”
The top book on her wish list is a first edition of “The Great Gatsby.”
Margulis doesn’t feel her obsession has reached hoarder levels. For one thing, the books are displayed neatly. They’re grouped in sections — fiction, non-fiction, etc. — but not alphabetical order.
“I tried to do that once and it just got to be too much. If I’m asked about a certain book, I know the area it should be in and I can start looking there,” Margulis says.
Margulis and Jones aren’t alone in their devotion to print. According to the Association of American Publishers, print books remained the top pick among readers in 2011. The print business remained strong despite the closing of 600 Borders stores that year.
“While some people are e-book- or print-only consumers, most recent surveys show that frequent readers tend to buy both formats. Sometimes even the same book in both formats,” says Andi Sporkin, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Publishers. “What publishers know from the industry’s history is that people love to read and they’ll do so in every format available to them.”
Sporkin points out that when paperbacks were introduced decades ago, it was said to be the end of hardcover books. It wasn’t.
“There’s certainly some shifting in sales whenever a new format is introduced and we’ve mainly seen erosion in the mass market paperback category since e-book prices are competitive and the titles are more current. But formats have loyal fans,” Sporkin says.
Anyone who visits Margulis knows where her heart is. And when your apartment looks like a miniature library, it’s a reliable conversation starter with visitors. She loves talking about books, but Margulis is a little hesitant to lend them because they can be lost or damaged.
And she doesn’t buy them just for show. She reads them all and loves to curl up with a recent purchase, especially on a cold or gloomy day. Her book of choice at the moment: “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.”
There’s really only one problem with having so many books, says Margulis:
“I have allergies, so I have to dust a lot.”