Trashing a Book

True confession. Last week I threw away a book. I hesitated a moment before I did so. Could I sell it online? Should I try to give it away? Was it somehow immoral to throw away a book? It sure didn’t feel right. But I did it anyway. In fact, I threw away eight or ten.

I was going through a cabinet in our den that had a bunch of computer disks, manuals and old equipment. The manuals were from 1993 and 1994. Antediluvian! Would anyone want the manual for Access 2.0? Maybe for historical study. Maybe. Ultimately the path of least resistance opened wide before me (wide is the road that leads to destruction), and all the manuals went into the recycle bin.

Patrick Reardon recently wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune on handling and manhandling books. Is it OK to dog-ear pages? What about writing in them or highlighting them? Dare we rip out pages or, worse, burn them? And ultimately he asks the question I had struggled with mightily for as much as thirty seconds: Should we throw a book away? Reardon says he’s done it, but rarely. “Even if the pages are discolored and scared, the author’s ideas are still right there, as fresh and clear as the day the book was first published.” What’s not to love about this man!?

Some of the comments on the article are just as endearing.

“I can not bring myself to do any harm to a book.”

“I . . . have a couple of dozen signed books. Those are never read but I will go to the Oak Park Library & check another copy of the book out to read it.”

“I’m a college student and I NEVER highlight in my books. What if I go to sell this book back and the person who buys it after me isn’t buying it for a course, but simply to learn something?”

“Mortimer Adler, author of How to Read a Book (required reading when my mom went to college in 1947), urged readers to underline, write in the margins and otherwise make the book one’s own.”

And finally someone signed “alwaysreading” wrote, “It’s my book and I’ll do what I want with it.”

I almost teared up reading all these comments. Yes, I know that having thrown away a book I have deeply marred my status as a book lover. But the fact that there are people out there who actually still care about books, both their ideas and as special, valuable objects–in a world where books and reading books sometimes seems quaint or slightly mad, well, I somehow didn’t feel so alone anymore.

One response to “Trashing a Book”

  1. When I worked at a used bookstore, I sometimes commented that one of the benefits we provided to the community was a book euthanizing service. Not infrequently, costumers would bring in books to trade or sell that we just had no use for. Economically speaking (and while everyone who worked there was a book lover, this was a business, so we had to speak economically), they weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

    We would try to turn these books away, but often as not the patron would ask if we could just take them off their hands, even if we couldn’t offer any credit. Generally we would put such books out on the clearance table at two, three, four, or even six for a dollar, but some we knew would never move even at those prices.

    Sometimes we would bluntly tell the customer that if we took the books, we would just have to throw them away ourselves, because we wouldn’t be able to find homes for them. Even then, they would leave the books. I remember one woman saying that she just couldn’t bring herself to throw a book away. She seemed a little sad, but also a little relieved that we were willing to do this dirty work for her.