I’ve heard it many times:
“Ohhh I would neeeever throw away a *b*o*o*k* – EVER – books are sacred OOoohhh fawny fawny fawn fawn – ” blah blah shut up. Shut. It.
Here’s the straight talk: a book is an object. Objects, in this universe mostly governed by things like the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, break. Also, things just change, occasionally rendering a previously indispensable book dispensable. For these reasons and possibly more, there are a handful of situations where it is more than reasonable to throw. a book. in the. garbage. With nary the slightest flutter of guilt or regret. You can and should replace your thumbed-to-death copy of Dietary Habits of the South American Frilled Salamander with a newer copy; you’re not destroying the book existentially, just a particular instance of it. This does not apply if there is something genuinely unique about the book in question, if it’s rare or out-of-print, for instance. A quick google search will tell you if there are copies floating around. If not, make the effort to preserve it.
And of course we are not talking about book-burning or generally treating books like junk. Neither would we, hosts of a room (a vault, actually – deep-signalling “value”) entirely dedicated to vintage books, ever advocate throwing away a book simply because it is old.
Here is our needle-threading short list of books you can throw away.
Board books that have already been pulped by your toothless baby are fine to throw away. Those books, God bless them, have done their faithful service and deserve their eternal rest. Thank them, mourn them, remember them – but let them go. Or use them as mulch.
Lonely Planet Costa Rica 1986 or any out-of-date (not meaning vintage) practical-type travel book. There are no better travel guides, in my opinion, than Lonely Planet, and Costa Rica is nearly perfect by all accounts, but a lot has happened since 1986. Like, the internet and Stranger Things and the Cubs winning the Series. You can throw this one away. Maybe if you have an old travel book for a place that doesn’t exist anymore (eg, East Germany, Yugoslavia), then you might hold onto it as an historical artifact. As a practical tool, though, anything but a current travel book could get you lost or in trouble.
Probably related: you’re allowed to burn 1 – ONE – book from your ex. The rest you have to donate or sell. Don’t donate/sell them to a place you frequent: the fewer reminders of that bastard the better.
Anything by Lance Armstrong or Bill Cosby (or Greg Mortensen or Norma Khouri or James Frey or our president) – If either the author themself or the book they wrote turns out to be crapola-to-the-brim-filléd, then you can feel freeee as a bird to shit-can their dumb book. You may want to remember that (sometimes) an organization continues separately to do good work (Livestrong, for example), despite the disgracéd figure-hëad — but that book itself? Croyez vous moi – c’est cette phony as my Frénch áccént. Le chuck it.
Wild Animus is an interesting case. Whether or not it’s a good book is up to the reader; some folks like it, some don’t. The reason it’s okay to throw it away is because there is an infinite supply of the book that leaks into our reality from a parallel universe. Anyway, that’s one of two theories. The other is that it’s actually impossible to get rid of the thing. You know that old story about chucking a Ouija Board into the fireplace, then the next day it shows up in the refrigerator? That might be what’s going on with Wild Animus. So, do your best to get rid of it, and see what happens, just for fun.
Books have lifespans. It’s just a fact. They can certainly last a really long time, if well cared for, but if read and reread and shoved in and out of moving boxes and used as a coffee coaster and toted around in a tote — they’re just paper – eventually, they will break. On that fateful day, it’s alright to send it into the afterlife, like a Viking warrior — except, don’t light it on fire. Paper is recyclable: chuck it in the blue bin. It’s not sacrilege; it’s physics and an opportunity to keep book publishing viable. Go buy a fresh copy.
That’s about it. There are not many good reasons to throw a book out, but these are a few of them. You may think of more, but think carefully; the apocalypse is just around the corner, and making paper is really hard (as we learned in Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge).
– Books are recyclable
– Even if they are no longer good for reading, they might be useful for an art project. Here’s our post on that from a couple years back.
– Every time you replace a worn out book with a new (or newer) one, you are supporting bookstores and publishers. Also, there is a thing called a library; you do not have to own all the books.
* Special thanks to my friend Christe for a) sending me pix of her kids’ thrashed board books and b) teaching her kids to love reading.