For book lovers, the arrival of a new year expresses itself not only in the fresh calendars we place on our walls, or the champagne we pop on Jan. 1, or the resolutions we make with everyone else, but in something subtler – a little thing we notice each time we crack open a newly published title.
It’s right there, on the copyright page – the evidence that one year has receded into the rearview mirror so that another year can take its place. I’m talking about the copyright date itself. At some point, whether it’s today or next week or next month, we’re going to open our first new book of the new year and notice that the copyright now reads “2014.” It’s the proud mark of a work of fiction or memoir or poetry that is, certifiably, brand spanking new, never published before.
That date on the copyright page always takes some getting used to. The new number of the new year seems odd, and it has yet to work its way into our familiar universe. We’ll need to break in 2014 as we do any year, by writing it repeatedly on bank checks and official forms, or by seeing it every day at the top of the newspaper.
I have, in my lap, my first new book of 2014 – “Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books,” by Wendy Lesser. The official date of publication in Jan. 7, and seeing “ 2014” typed on the copyright page is, for me, as eventful change in my reading life as watching the ball drop in Times Square. It signals for me that I’ve passed another 12 months among books, and am preparing to keep company with literature for another 12 more.
And what also strikes me, as it does every year, is how suddenly dated all the books now seem that bear the copyright date of 2013. Right here on my nightstand is a copy of “The Boy Detective,” the marvelous memoir by Roger Rosenblatt published just a few weeks ago. Although the book isn’t meaningfully older than Lesser’s new one, the Rosenblatt title now appears, with last year’s date, somehow indelibly planted in the past.
But underlying these tricks of the mind is a deeper, more comforting truth. I know that truly good books – and I count Rosenblatt's memoir in that number – have no expiration date, regardless of the year stamped on their copyright page. They’re always new, transcending the turn of time, which is why we read them in the first place.
Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”