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Should we ever throw away books?

Should we ever throw away books?

Should we ever throw away books?

On the fate of unwanted books…

An article in LitHub caught my eye recently. Apparently, in Ankara, Turkey, refuse collectors have built a library with books they found discarded in the rubbish they collected. As word spread, the library grew with donations as well as rescued books, and now its collection numbers more than 6,000 books.

How do you feel when you think about books discarded in the trash? I confess, it makes me feel most uncomfortable. The word that springs to my mind is ‘sacrilegious’; of course that is over the top, but to me books are precious and to be treasured.

When might we consider binning a book? Well, I suppose if a book very much disappointed or angered or bored you, then you may feel an urge to destroy it. But whatever the content of the book, it is still a book, printed on precious paper, and a bibliophile like me wrestles with the idea of casting it into the trash along with the banana peels and dirty cans.

Ah, but of course we can recycle the book instead, so that it may be turned into something new and beautiful – such as a wonderful new book. This is a fine idea, and works especially well when you are discarding a book simply because it is damaged and thus unreadable. Still, I find that I struggle to slot a book in amongst the paper recycling. It looks incongruous, abandoned.

I was brought up by parents who valued books highly. When some of their friends had to leave Egypt, my parents adopted all of their books; I remember box upon box of these books in my home and feeling that they were a very special inheritance, to be cared for and appreciated, even if, as a child, most were too grown-up for me to read. I think it was this, and my parents’ deep love of reading, that instilled in me a great reverence for books.

If binning a book, whether in the main refuse or the paper recycling, feels wrong, what about repurposing the book, turning it into something else to be enjoyed and treasured? By harnessing your artistic skills, you can turn a book, through folding, into a work of art.

Furthermore, if the thought of cutting up pages does not leave you in a cold sweat, then a whole world of creativity opens up to you. Little excerpts from books can be used to craft unique gifts, like earrings and bookmarks and Christmas baubles (Etsy has a fabulous selection of homemade items in its ‘made from books’ category).

If you are a poet or a lyricist, then you can experiment with découpé, or the cut-up technique, made popular by the writer William S. Burroughs. You take a text, cut it up and rearrange it to make a new composition – a little like fridge poetry, but using book pages cut up.

Of course, many people, myself included, would struggle with act of physically dissecting a book, but the results can be beautiful, and this is surely a better option than binning the book.

For me, the best option of all is, if possible, to preserve a book. If it is damaged, a book binder may well be able to mend it. If it is no longer of interest to you, then as the Ankara refuse collectors demonstrated, there’s very likely someone else out there who’d value the book. So goes the proverb, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Perhaps you could give the book to a family member, or arrange a ‘book swap’ meetup with friends. Charity shops are often glad of book donations, and increasingly you find little free libraries in communities. Maybe a local school or college would appreciate expanding its collection. Or you could be a Book Fairy and leave the book someplace for a reader to find.

Ultimately, I hope you find an option other than throwing a book into the rubbish bin. Or, if you do, that your refuse collectors are as bibliophilic as those in Ankara, Turkey!


Picture credits: 1) MVolodymyr/Shutterstock; 2) Marc Dietrich/Shutterstock; 3) Nachtegaal/Shutterstock; 4) Olga Danylenko/Shutterstock.

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Raymond E Getzinger
Raymond E Getzinger
1 month ago

When I served aboard ship, I would always leave my books behind for the ship’s library or too friends whom I knew collected books. They were too heavy to cart around, but they could always be put to good use.