Why Is Throwing Away Books So Hard?

Oh my, controversial. Photo by pcorreia on Flickr.

Like most writers I know, I have a room full of bookshelves, all of them overflowing. Some have been read. Many haven’t. Most, I consider indispensable. A few, I have resolved to get rid of, but that’s like saying I want to be the world’s first ham-juggling world champ. I can say it all I want.

I have at least two canvas bags full of hardback books in my living room, longing for a new home. The used bookstore doesn’t want them — and in some cases I really can’t blame them for not taking my complete set of Mechwarrior Saga: The Last Thing You’d Ever Want to Be Caught Reading. My friends won’t take them. I could try selling them on the internet, that’s often a losing proposition when BookBargainJackholesDotCom can undercut me by selling for a penny.

So why can’t I just chuck them in the trash?

I’ve certainly thought about it. I’ve also thought about firing them out my window at the kids who ride by on their bicycles, which somehow doesn’t seem any more appealing. I’ve thought about starting a bonfire in the parking lot screaming JESUS IS LORD as I throw some old Star Wars novels into the flames, but I figured the landlord might frown upon that for some picky reason.

Long story short, I’m still stuck with these books. Why am I so averse to tossing them out?

Books Have Sentimental Value

Yes, I am sentimental about books. I’m nostalgic about them, too. I won’t apologize. I’ve had far too many conversations with Kindle fanatics who talk about emotional attachment to books as if it were some kind of disease. Shelf full of books? When you read paper, you murder the world!

Ahem. Sorry. I should really let that go. Anyway, many of the books I own have been deeply formative to me in one fashion or another. Just because I no longer get anything out of a particular volume, that doesn’t mean no one else will. So just tossing a book in the trash feels like I might somehow be cheating someone, somewhere, out of that experience. Is that really likely to happen with this copy of Steve Perry’s The Omega Cage that I can’t unload? I’m guessing not. This is a totally irrational feeling, yet it’s tougher to shake than a rabid howler monkey.

Books Retain Their Utility

Soon to be a major motion picture with Jean-Claude Van Damme, only not really, and thank God for that.

I don’t have this issue with, say, my busted microwave or that free Amazon review copy of From Justin to Kelly some complete asshole in the Seattle office¬† thought I would enjoy. I’ll fire those at people’s heads all day without a single moral qualm — because their utility has expired. When electronic devices go bad, that’s it. I’m probably not going to hang on to my Kindle when it finally clicks its last, caressing its face like a dead lover and shedding manly tears as I think of those times we spent together reading blog entries on Instapaper. Okay, this is kinda creepy now.

My point is, it takes a lot to destroy a book. A book can take a hell of a beating and still be readable. Thus, the miserly curmudgeon inside me minces with snooty horror when I think of throwing something perfectly good into the trash. I keep expecting my deceased grandmother to rise up like a terrifying undead revenant and tell me about how bad they had it during the Depression. We had a complete set of the Black Stallion novels, and that was ALL, and we were THANKFUL, ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl ftaghn!

And So, In Conclusion…

Want some books? C’mon, Omega Cage, you know you want it. Going begging. Anybody?

No, but seriously — I’m surely not alone in this, am I? What do you do with your old books? Do you toss them out, give them away, or do they just hang around forever, like unwanted guests who drink all your gin and put ABBA Gold on repeat?