There has always been something blasphemous to me in destroying a book. When I worked at the bookstore, our mass markets were stripped of their covers for returns. The covers went back to the publisher as proof the books were destroyed, and the books themselves were thrown out. [Some may or may not have made their way onto my bookshelves…] This practice made me sad, except when it came to the destruction of romance novels, and books by James Patterson. I was doing the world a favor and I did it with glee! Just goes to show, even I have my (judgmental) flaws.
Stripping books by my favorite authors was hard, though. Towards the end of my time there the fantasy section was going through a purge, and I was directed to strip Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony, among others, because their catalogues were so large and they weren’t selling. I should have seen the end of the store in this rationale, but instead I was lulled into the false belief that the store had been there forever, and always would. I directed my frustration at the management and the fact that I wasn’t really allowed to showcase the books I loved in favor of less stellar authors who just happened to sell better. In reality, the decline in sales because of e-books, Amazon and the big box stores really killed our ability to do more than shill the bestsellers.
In college I looked upon writing in school books as a terrible thing. I was shocked at first, seeing my classmates taking notes in the margins of their texts, and refused to do it myself. But I soon realized just how helpful it was to look just to the left or right of a highlighted sentence and see my own reactions, instead of having to turn to a page in my notebook that might not even make sense anyway. I started to take notes in the margins of anthologies (you should see my copy of Tradition and the Individual Talent), textbooks, and even novels. Spines were broken, pages fell out, and I’ve gone through at least two copies of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion because of all my notes and re-reads. Even my beloved Katharine Kerr books haven’t escaped. My tendencies changed with experience.
Before I worked at the bookstore, before I went to college, books were sacred. Sure I’d bend the spine, but I never intentionally destroyed books. The most writing I remember doing in them was my name in the front. Maybe a doodle when I was little. But books were treasured, and all the more special because someone took the time to write the words down. To some people books are just words on a page. To me books are worlds, and the words on the page are the images that show us these worlds. Why would I want to defile them with my own words, or through rips and tears?
Over the last few years I have seen books used in all sorts of projects. Mostly, the books are dismantled, or cut to pieces, spines taken apart to be used as boxes or other bindings, pages stamp-cut into shapes and used for decorations. When my out-of-town maid of honor suggested using these punch-outs as table decorations at my upcoming wedding, I was not cool with it. Cut up my favorite books? Blasphemy! But she brought a couple examples out while visiting this summer, and I was swayed. They looked great, and they come from some of my favorite texts. A double win! My bridal shower was this weekend, and she made huge heart fans out of Emma, one of Jane Austen’s greatest love story novels, and set them inside the flower centerpieces. They looked absolutely beautiful and I know that the tables at the wedding are going to be just as great.
So I guess you could say I’ve taken a new view of books. I joined in a garage sale at my parents’ house this summer and went through my bookcases looking for things to get rid of. My friends expressed shock and surprise when they heard I got rid of books. Me. The book hoarder. The one who prefers owning to borrowing, even if the book wasn’t good. And to tell the truth, I sold a few books I actually liked because I knew I’d never read them again. That was a first for me. It actually made me happy to tell the person looking at the book that I loved it, thought it was great, but just didn’t see a re-read in my future. I hope they liked the books as much as I did!
I have also started swapping on Goodreads. It’s a great way to pass along books I can’t sell, and I don’t have to pay anything to send them out. Unfortunately my apartment is in a state of chaos right now so I’ve had to deny a few requests because I couldn’t find the books. Once the wedding is over I plan on going through all my shelves with a fine-toothed comb and deciding what I can and cannot live without. I already have a few books pegged for removal. Hopefully sometime soon I can get a barcode scanner and catalogue them all too.
Over time my views on books as tangible objects have changed. I write in them. I break the spines. [But only on mass markets.] I allow them to be cut up in the name of decoration. I SELL THEM! Who is this person I have become? Is this a bad thing? Have I betrayed the one interest that never let me down? I hope not. I hope that in the future my love for books can transcend anything I do to them physically, because the words will be in my heart always.
Plus, I can always get another copy, right?