My Penguin copy of VS Pritchett Collected Short stories is disintegrating. It’s well read, and is a 1982 reprint, so some might say it’s had it’s day. Every time I open it pages flutter around my feet, and they’re not designed for independence, so the loose leaves are getting brittle.
I’m not good at throwing books out. Passing them along is one thing: destroying them quite another. I’ve listed my reasons in this case, but prioritising has been tricky.
First, Pritchett has not yet been recognised with a ‘retrospective’, even though The Royal Society of Literature have been awarding a £1000 short story prize in his name since ‘the beginning of the new millennium’ (I’m afraid you’ve just missed this year’s deadline, maybe next year?). Without reprints, even fragments of his writing have especial value.
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” – Ray Bradbury.
Second, several stories in this copy are not repeated in the three other Pritchett collections I own, or in any of my twentieth century story anthologies. So, I’d need to trawl the second-hand market for the missing ones, which are in at least three other Pritchett collections. My short-story shelves are already overflowing, therefore I’d need another shelf…
” The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.” ~Samuel Butler, 1835 – 1902
Hmm, I’d discover more of his stories, and gain a shelf: that means more book space.
Pritchett collections are scarce, and I’m afraid to report that – don’t look, Ruth, unless you’ve removed your bookseller hat, this will distress you – one of the copies bought for the course I’m just completing was sold WITH PAGES MISSING. I suppose a few gaps are less tricky in collected short stories than in a novel, then maybe pulping, or (gulp) burning can be justified. But what do we do with still-complete fragmenting books?
“It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.” ― Heinrich Heine 1797 – 1856
“It hardly matters why a library is destroyed: every banning, curtailment, shredding, plunder or loot gives rise (at least as a ghostly presence) to a louder, clearer, more durable library of the banned, looted, plundered, shredded or curtailed.” ― Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night. 2008
Thought three carries a warning for sensitive, book-purists: my Pritchett contains multi-coloured highlighted sections, plus both pencilled and penned notes in the margins. This is not random vandalism, each mark signals appreciation. I suppose, in time, I could replicate those responses in other copies, but would they still mean the same things?
“[I]t is pleasanter to eat one’s own peas out of one’s own garden, than to buy them by the peck at Covent Garden; and a book reads the better, which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots and dog’s-ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins, or over a pipe… – Charles Lamb, letter to S. T. Coleridge, October 1802
Conclusion: Do loose pages matter, so long as I keep them together? I’ve a pot of elastic bands, I could combine them with my distressed books and solve two recycling problems. Perhaps that new shelf I mentioned will be a refuge for delicate books.
“I have friends whose society is delightful to me; they are persons of all countries and of all ages; distinguished in war, in council, and in letters; easy to live with, always at my command.” – Francesco Petrarch, 1304 – 1374
“Far more seemly were it for thee to have thy study full of books, than thy purse full of money.” ~John Lyly, 1553 – 1606
“What wild desires, what restless torments seize
The hapless [wo]man, who feels the book-disease…” ~John Ferriar, “The Bibliomania, An Epistle, To Richard Heber, Esq.”, 1809