Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Covers and Controversies

Earlier this year I wrote about one of the more controversial aspects of my job. I hear you snickering now. “Maggie works in a high school library. What, did she forget to initial a hall pass? Mis-shelve a book? Eat a banana under the No Food or Drink in the Library sign?” Yes to all of the above, actually, but I’m talking again about discarding books. Every year we select the poor waif-books that will find a home in a dumpster. Last school year we weeded through the social studies section, removing books that were worn beyond repair, hadn’t been checked out in twenty years---or ever---, had inaccurate information. There have been a few more presidents since FDR, for example, so The Complete Book of the American Presidents had to go.

This year, however, we’re discarding fiction, and I trembled to my chubby toes as I stamped “Discard” on Christie, Buck, Austen, Cather. Some of the volumes literally fell apart in my hands, and we do have newer, improved editions to replace the classics. But a great many, mostly paperbacks, had outdated covers, topics, excessive Scotch tape and graffiti. Ironically, those books which were once loved as much as the Velveteen Rabbit are now repulsive, victims of their popularity. Their condition and content no longer appeal to modern teens. It got me thinking.

Every author writes for a scrap of immortality. There’s good reason for “Never put it in writing.” The pen truly is mightier than the sword. Words live forever as long as there are readers to read them. Those of us who aspire to publication hope to move a future audience to tears, laughter and the parting of their $6.99. But someday, even if our talents and luck combine to produce a shiny pink or purple paperback (maybe even with a sexy stepback!), our baby will be tossed away by somebody just like me.

What do you do with your old books? What images do you like on your covers? I rescued this handsome edition of Wuthering Heights (circa 1959, I’m guessing), last checked out in 1995. I think the cover artist had a little “inspiration” from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. S/he’s changed her dress and given Madame a nose job, but the resemblance is unmistakable. When the original portrait was first exhibited, it was considered so shocking that Sargent was asked to withdraw it. It destroyed Madame Gautreau’s reputation, and Sargent became persona non grata in Paris. For more information, visit


Hellie Sinclair said...

I can't throw them away.

Not if I can get any money out of them and buy NEW books. So most of mine go to used book stores. Those I can't sell, get dumped at the library.

I make the librarians wrestle with the tough decisions to toss or keep. *grins* I'm a responsibility shirker, I'm afraid.

Elyssa Papa said...

I've thrown books away, too... especially with the upcoming move, I've tossed more into the garbage. It's easier to throw them away then give them away--it only makes sense in my warped mind.

Terri Osburn said...

I can't throw books away but then I'm a pack rat and I have a hard time parting with lots of things. But I'm working on that. The more I move the less of a pack rat I become.

I do sell to used book stores but I've never given to the library. I think that's what I need to do with some of these the bookstore won't take.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get rid of those Reader's Digest Condensed Books? No one wants them! And I'm not even sure why I have them all. I've never read anything in any of them!

Santa said...

I can't bring myself to throw books out. My kids, I fear, are following in my footsteps. We go to the UBS, small thrift stores and, the final dumping ground, the library.

Our library recently did a purge of their paperback romance books. These were so worn and yellowed. So when they had a 'Fill-your-bag-for-a-dollar' day I felt I had to obey. Read the books, kept those I wanted and returned the rest!

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

I usually give mine away. My UBS is far too chi-chi to take them (I live in a college town, although maybe I should's just that I never see any there). I don't even know why I keep my "keepers." It's unlikely I'll read them again. But I do save my favorite authors.

Hellion, we have a two-page list of criteria to figure out what to toss.

Ely, I used to throw books away too, particularly when moving. Now I give them to a sub at school...or you! Just finished Untouched. Want it?

Terrio, my old library would take my romances, but the new one wants me to bring in "only a few at a time." They don't know who they're dealing with.

Santa, I've always loved a good bargain! Old books actually make me a little itchy, though. I should get a new job!

Terri Osburn said...

*jumping up and down*

Hey, you can throw that copy of Untouched in with my prize. *g* I really want that one. I'll even send it back!

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Terrio, being the super-efficient woman I am, I've mailed your prize off. Ely gets first dibs, but if she doesn't want it, or reads it and sends it to you, it's yours. I didn't drool on it either when I read it. *g*

Janga said...

Maggie, I have a Cyclopedia of Literary Characters and a Cambridge History of American Literature on my reference shelf right now that were library discards. They were outdated, but in the case of literature, that just means they didn't include more recent authors. The character definitions and literary history they do include are still accurate. I count myself lucky to have books worth hefty sums that cost me nothing.

And the only books I throw away are those that are falling to pieces. Everything else I discard goes on a keeper shelf, to a family member, to my UBS, or to the Friends of the Library or my church youth group for yard sales. I do reread frequently, so my keepers are used. I cull from time to time, but, for the most part, they will stay in place until I am too blind, too demented, or too lifeless to read them any longer. :)

Chris said...

I have that copy of WH. I love the cover. I couldn't part with it.

And to answer your question: if I don't keep a book, I take it to the used book store for store credit or give it to the library.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Hi, Chris! I like that cover too. Heathcliff looks super Heathcliffy.

Janga, last winter I scored some great historical references from the discard pile...or they would be, if I read them.:) This year I went for some classical fiction, but truly most everything was too far gone to read.

irisheyes said...

This is very interesting Maggie. I've never really thought about it before, but I don't think I could bring myself to actually throw a book out. Just imagining myself doing it gives me the shudders. I'm sure it has something to do with my upbringing (most of my idiosyncrasies do!). We never threw anything out when I was growing up. If we weren't going to use it anymore (even if it was broken) we gave it away/donated it.

I would either send it off to the library or bring it to the UBS for credit. If either of them felt the need to throw it out then let them make that decision. I've gotten healthy enough to throw ripped/torn clothes and broken games in the garbage, but the book thing would be a tough one.

Anonymous said...

Unless it's a real wallbanger, I hold on to books. They reside neatly in bookcases all over the house and are not allowed to sprawl slovenly. Unfortunately, my daughter doesn't share my passion, however neatly contained. She has told me I must eventually do something with the books before I die, because, "Mom, you just can't leave me with all this!" *g*

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Irish, I was pretty horrified when I first got this job. The thought of just chucking them was upsetting, but the head librarian doesn't want to mess around trying to place the wounded orphans anywhere. I have overcome my reluctance to such a degree that this year I've actually pulled books from H-N myself. She has the final say, but I was pretty ruthless clearing the shelves. In my heart, I just knew our kids would never ever read most of the books.

Anon, I have 4 kids, but I know none of them will want stuff that even I don't want anymore! Time for a yard sale.

Tiffany Clare said...

cringing right along with you, Maggie. Dang, I couldn't do it to what I deem as real books. I've had to throw out some destroyed books, thanks to my kids. But when I throw those books out, the kids get a firm lecture on how not to treat books. And how does mommy keep her books, they are nicely looked after on my bookshelves, you really must try to do the same.

Books I don't want I give away.