Monday, April 09, 2007

on being savonarola


So, the Wild at Heart discussion over at KB's blog, and the related discussion here, prompt me to wonder--not about societally assigned gender roles, really, since I've been reading other stimulating material lately on that topic--but about the ethics of the disposal of books.

See, I own a lot of books. I also married into a lot of books. A lot plus a lot, is, well, a whole lot. So many that Clare's first word, and I assure you that now she most definitely means it, is "book." BooKKKK. Booooooooook! Book-ook. B-gook. Book!

Our books are important to us. They are for work and for play and for comfort and for personal betterment. They are advisors, friends, lullabies, nostalgia. But lurking among their ranks are traitors: books from the past which betray my former self, back before I started, you know, thinking about stuff. Shameful books. False friends and bad advisors. Books that keep me awake at night and remind me of aspects of my past I'd rather forget.

Brent used to turn the spines backwards on books he preferred to pretend weren't infiltrating our bookshelves (oddly, he has the same habit with old evangelical T-shirts; he still wears them--but inside out). Now, quite a lot of our books are boxed and in storage (displaced by the small but disproportionately powerful presence of Clare). Most of the shameful titles are therefore now safely tucked away out of sight in the perpetually damp storage space provided for use--at the tenant's own risk--in the basement: Book Hell. Our multiple copies of James Dobson's marriage book, all wedding gifts, are down there. Transforming Your Workplace for Christ--a random title I picked up at an estate sale for use as a resource of example text for a Christianity in Culture final exam a couple years ago, is down there. The Purpose-Driven Life, and workbook, are down there. Who Stole Feminism, which I wrote a book review of my first semester at Harding, is down there...back before I was a feminist.

I'd like to get rid of these books, I think. But how?

There's a dilemma in getting rid of the traitorous books of one's shameful past. What, exactly, can you do with them? You can't give them away to people you know--unless you want to try explaining 1) why you no longer want to be associated with that book and 2) why you think it's just perfect for them... Perhaps, then, you can sell it: at the annual PTS book sale, enormous and anonymous, or half.com. But then you think, wait. How can it be okay to give away a harmful book? And even worse, to make someone pay you for that harmful book?

Of course, there's always the bonfire option. But Fahrenheit 451 is not on my list of traitorous books.

15 comments:

krister said...

I really enjoyed this post as I have a number of books that I simply don't know what to do with. It's pretty sad when I look over at the bottom of one of our six book cases and see two copies of His Needs Her Needs. When we left Princeton a few years ago, the moving truck we used was one size too small, so we left behind a good bit of stuff including recliners, a kitchen table, some chairs, and, thankfully, a box of books like those of which you speak. We just put it on the picnic table near the basketball court and left. Hopefully it was used as good tinder.

Malibu Librarian said...

I know exactly how you feel. People "gift" the libraries here with all manner of books, and recently it's fallen to me as religion liaison to decide what I want to keep and what I want to discard in that subject area. Interestingly enough, C of C members are rarely the perpetrators, um, I mean, givers, of most of these books. With the (relatively few) COC books we receive that fall into this category, I send them up to special collections - they're there if someone in 100 years wants to research our tribe, and at the same time they're also out of the way of an unsuspecting freshman's hands.

The others? We trash them. And feel no shame in doing so.

Jen said...

Mine either find the trash (who gave me a copy of the Bible Code and why haven't I found a hole in the ground for it yet!) or meet the fireplace, back when I had one. One has to keep warm somehow. [If they remain here - they are hidden on the shelf behind a more appropriate title.)

travis said...

I imagine this is why I keep seeing copies of F. Lagard Smith's books at Half Price Books.

I have my shitty books regulated to a lower shelf in my office. (Un)Fortunately, I have plenty of shelf space, so I have not the liberty of hiding the less than desirable books behind other books. On my bottom bookshelf are such stirring titles as Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, The Sacred Romance (the original John Eldredge book), The Body by Chuck Colson, and T.D. Jake's Loose that Man and Let Him Go. I also have several Pat Boone books, but I'm proud of these.

kathryn said...

This is precisely what recycling is for, right? I mean the recycling bin, not recycling as in re-gifting. If you do decide on the bonfire option, though, let me know. We live pretty close, so I could bring down a couple to add!

Indie said...

I once tore a Harding text book to shreds then burned it in the parking lot. I can't remember now what it was, but I think that it was written by one of the professors.

I usually sell them online if I can get anything for them. I figure if they are stupid but not technically dangerous then it doesn't really matter. I consider dangerous to be books like Babywise with advice that has led to failure to thrive in infants. If there is anyone who actually wants to pay for my copy of Pathway to Purpose for Women, I'll gladly take the money. Its not like those women are going to suddenly start buying good books because I withheld a stupid one.

J. Brent Bates said...

Indie,
Maybe I know which one you're talking about. Was it the Christian Home book? I had the author of that book for Christian Home. Worst class I took at Harding; period.

J. Brent Bates said...

The class in which the professor gave free skips for anyone who would get engaged during the semester!

JTB said...

I stopped reading that book when I learned that "A woman has two heads."

priscilla said...

You could just leave them in a box outside my door, and they will eventually work their way downstairs to the cupboard under the stairs (not Harry Potters) and reemerge in March 2008 at the book sale, where, if they don't sell, either get recycled or sent to African seminaries.
However, you could just dump them now and save a bit of time.

Brian said...

I'm not sure how, but somehow I managed to avoid taking that Christian home class.

I suppose it's unethical to go through your parents' bookshelves and remove the books you wish they didn't have?

Rick said...

How about make them into art? A favorite prof of ours at Harding also used some of his more shameful books to hold up furniture with broken legs.

Indie said...

No, Brent, I sold that one back to the bookstore. All that guy ever said in class was "Go on a Coke date." Like that would solve all social problems and get us properly paired off in good time.

I think it was something from a more obscure prof. I couldn't sell it back so I destroyed it.

JTB said...

Indie, I still have a framed $20 I got as a joke graduating present because of a bet I made with a friend that I would graduate single. He bet I wouldn't. I won. Despite the fact that Brent and I met at Harding I take great pride in the fact that I was not "properly paired off" before I left, despite the diligent efforts of Christian Home profs and the empty promises of Dr. Burks at parent orientations.

You make a good point in your earlier comment--there is a difference between dangerous and stupid. This is part of why I feel like there's a real ethical dilemma--on the one hand, I don't like the idea of participating (however slightly) in the circulation of stupid ideas, but on the other, I don't like the temptation toward total censorship either; other people need room to assume their own responsibility in the choice of what they read. But with regard to more directly or deeply harmful things I would be more inclined to metaphorically "burn." Of course, there's always the difficulty of correctly discerning the proper category...

Jonathan said...

http://bookmooch.com