When, and how, do I say goodbye to a book?

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.

disintigrating book.2 jpgI’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.

Point one-A:

“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…

Point Two-A

” 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.

Point Two-B

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?

Point Two-C:

“It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.”  ― Heinrich Heine 1797 – 1856

Point Two-D:

“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?

Point Three-A

“[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

disintigrating bookConclusion:  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

disintigrating books

14 thoughts on “When, and how, do I say goodbye to a book?

    • Thanks Lynda, you’ve confirmed my feelings. In the past I’ve given away too many books I later regretted.

      I’m beginning to ask myself whether it’s possible to have too many shelves…


  1. Oh I couldn’t destroy it, either! Rubber Bands are a help. In this house, I’d say a third of our books–no, half–have been taped back together with strong, bulky packing tape. Sure, the kids have wrecked a few spines by running on them, but the majority of the books I’ve had to repair are because the kids have read the books to death. Not a bad problem, I think. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve grown less precious about books, over the years. I think it’s better for kids to have books as part of their familiar, everyday lives and take them for granted than to only have ‘special’ copies – or worse, no books at all. I agree, reading books to death is a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh exactly. That bit on Diana Wynne Jones’ childhood about being allowed so few books because they were expensive just made me cry. Bo and I will always buy books over toys for the kids. (We have a lot of relatives who think books are a waste of time, so our house is flooded with toys anyway. Dangit.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Apart from anything else, these are relatives who’ve clearly never tried to navigate a play area without shoes on – I’d much prefer to tread on a book than a piece of plastic.

          Liked by 1 person

          • AMEN. Bo thinks Legos are the worst, but I say matchbox cars. So many of them have these tiny pointy engine parts or tow truck hooks. And we only have 80 BILLION lying around the house, stuffed into chair cushions. GAAAAAAAH!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Books seem to have gained magical properties in the last few decades. I have to say I’m not sentimental in the long run about selling them to the second hand bookshop or even throwing them away… but the long run is sometimes several decades. I’ve only twice regretted such decluttering, and I have survived the pain. Hope that’s encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

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