September 4, 2007
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.