By the time I moved out of my childhood home to go to university a few years back, things were getting rather out of hand within the four walls that had served as my bedroom for the previous 8 years. There were High School Musical posters that I couldn’t be bothered removing, because however little Zac Efron now interested me, the walls looked worse underneath. There were were trinkets from childhood holidays littering the table and floor: fans that didn’t open, cracked bells and paper weights that had never had any paper to weigh down. Most importantly, in this room were all of the books that I had ever owned.
When I returned for the holidays from university (those blissful breaks where you suddenly remember how wonderful it was to open the fridge and find more than milk and last night’s takeaway) the full force of how cluttered my room had become would hit me hard. I began blitzing it little by little every time I returned.
First went the posters. Zac, you served me well, but truth be told, I just never fancied you that much. Next, the holiday trinkets, because we were lying to ourselves even when we first bought them that they weren’t junk. The books, however, posed a problem, because it wasn’t like I could just put them in the bin, right?
After thinking about it, I decided to steel myself and just do it. I didn’t need most of those books and I would likely never read them again. Childhood stories I didn’t even remember were taking up rather a lot the space, space that it was perhaps time to be cleared to make room for ‘literature’- you know, now that I was now a grown up and all.
So I went downstairs, grabbed the recycling box and began throwing in all the books that I no longer wanted.
I must clarify at this point that this was no arbitrary cull. I looked at each and every book in order to think back to what it was about and whether I had enjoyed it. There were some that it was utterly out of the question to throw away. Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart’s The Edge Chronicles simply had to stay, Harry Potter remains my lifelong ally and there were others, such as Sylvia Waugh’s The Mennyms series that I just couldn’t separate from the fond memory of my dad perched at the side of my bed reading to me as I contentedly breathed into my pillow. These books, among several others, will forever remain in my book collection.
Then there was also a small pile for the books that I remembered being good, but that I didn’t feel especially attached to. These went into the charity shop pile; these were the books that I felt glad at the idea of somebody else reading.
Picking up a book that I didn’t even remember reading, however, I told myself that if it had been so underwhelming that I couldn’t even remember the plot (and this was after reading the blurb, mind you) it had clearly not been a good read. And these books were thrown into the recycling box with minimal guilt.
The way I saw it, the books and their authors that had earned my love and respect would remain. Those that had not would be recycled so that their pages could then at least be reused to host more worthy words.
After all, trees are not an unlimited resource and there is a lot of bad literature around.
I lugged the recycling box downstairs, filled to the brim with the books of my past that had failed to impress me and ran into my dad, who looked at the box, alarmed. He was wrestling with Book Thrower’s Guilt, I could tell. But I made my case and, in the interest of clearing out the house (every room of which looked rather a lot like my bedroom at that time) he agreed to take the book boxes to the tip.
Why is it that we need to assuage the uncomfortable feeling that disposing of a book is simply wrong? A shameful action, an insult to our only partially-educated planet. Charity shops are filled to the brim with second hand books that people do not buy. Children’s literature is expanding hugely into the digital sphere in a way that adult literature is not. And yet at the prospect of throwing out a second-rate kid’s book, we balk.
At any rate, when my father arrived at the tip, the staff there took one look at the book boxes and told him firmly that books were not to be recycled. There was a specific area for them at the tip. They took the boxes and left, my father secretly relieved that my literary victims had been spared.
I still do not believe that the foundation for Book Thrower’s Guilt is as strong as it once was. If you disagree, please tell me otherwise before before any more books suffer the consequences of my ignorance!