Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Awful Task of Throwing Out a Book

It's a rare thing, but once in a great while, a book needs to be thrown out.

I know, I know, from across the corners of the world, I can hear your cries of protest. My heart made the same noise the other day when I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I had a dead book in my collection, and it was finally time to consign it to the recycling bin.

By dead, I mean battered, beaten, tattered and falling apart beyond the point where a book can, in good conscience, be given to someone else or donated to charity. I mean a book that's lasted well beyond its intended or reasonable shelf life, one that's put up with decades of use and abuse, been hauled across the country several times, and despite a love of its cover and contents, just been run into the ground.

Oh sure, I've had books with bent covers and cracked spines and dog-eared pages that I've kept because they were still readable. Paperbacks with sun-faded spines, covers, and pages. Spots of unidentifiable and best-left-unquestioned origin. Dog and cat hairs from beloved pets long gone that have mysteriously taken up posts between pages of books the animal never came near, waiting to emotionally ambush me when I pull one off the shelf for a once-in-a-decade reread. Shredded, folded, and curled dust jackets over hardcovers with crumpled corners. Water stained page edges. Whole books that have been accidentally dropped into a pool on a drowsy summer afternoon and puffed up to three times their normal size like angry cats. All of these are salvageable. All of them are worth keeping.

But sometimes a book just can't be saved. Sometimes age and damage are so great, and initial binding and paper quality are so poor, that a book has just had it and should be allowed to rejoin the circle of pulp in dignity to resurrect as toilet paper or something else of use.

The other day, it became painfully obvious that my old paperback copy of Arthur C Clarke's 2010 - Odyssey Two has reached that point. I was rearranging things to make more room on my shelves for the new books I'd received at Christmas, when I pulled 2010 out and the first 20-odd pages fell out in a clump. Cleanly detached from the spine — the glue must have finally given out after years of the book being read and reread and subjected to different levels of humidity and temperature. Add that to the tears on the cover-spine edges, and the constellation of water stains, and it was clear the fix was in. It was a cheap 1984 printing which I think I bought in 1986, and it's probably been read and reread more than a dozen times, being my favourite of Clarke's monolith cycle. After all these years, it certainly doesn't owe me anything. Coming apart as it is, I don't think there's any quick fix I can make that'll hold it together much longer. As painful as it is, it's time to not just let it go, but throw it out.

Luckily, I was able to find a replacement at White Dwarf the next day — and one that's of the same vintage. They had a trade-size paperback that's been kicking around on their shelves since its original publication back in the 80s, protected in its original plastic wrap (mint condition!!!), and, even better, still priced at its original 1980s rate. Good thing, because I want to keep the series complete on my shelf. As tough as it is getting rid of a dead book, having a replacement makes it a lot easier.

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