Another book related question! Yay!
I love books. I’m almost at the level of Thomas Jefferson in that regard. I can’t deny myself a book. Today, I broke my prohibition on going into bookstores and walked out with an arm load. While I can imagine having books stacked floor to ceiling, my wife likes them on bookshelves. There just aren’t enough shelves or enough room to add more. I think I need to start getting rid of some old books. Herein lies the problem.
When I was a child, I was nominally a Christian. At least I was told I was and given books to reinforce that. I had many religious themed books, many passed down from my parents and cousins. They should be the first to go. I’d like to someday have children, but I can’t have them exposed to that filth before they’re old enough to think for themselves. I can’t throw them away. They’re books. How can you throw away a book? It might have something useful to say regardless of the subject matter. That alone is a reason it is hard to part with them, even though I’ve never read many of them. But, alas, they must go. I can’t bring myself to donate them to a library or charity or sell them to a used book store because children might read them. I don’t want to be responsible for poisoning a mind. Do you have any suggestion of a way I can get rid of these books in a way that won’t ruin young minds? I also don’t want to destroy data. I’m sure they’re not the last copies, but each one destroyed brings us one step closer to losing something that might be important.
— New Thomas Jefferson sans shelves
I understand your dilemma. I adore books. I covet and clutch them like the Gollum with his “Precious.” My parents raised me to love and revere books, and their home was filled with them, as my home is now. I was encouraged to read any book I found, provided that I always washed my hands first, and I that I practiced the proper method of turning the pages, to make sure they did not tear or wrinkle. Books were precious things. So, throwing away old, obsolete books was for a long time impossible for me.
But when I became a man, I put away childish things. (I’m not making fun of you, just myself.)
I had hundreds and hundreds of books in my home, many of which I had not read in decades, and many of which I never would read at all. They were handicapping my life with clutter. My keeping so many of them was a little about clinging to nostalgia or sentiment, but mostly to my misplaced veneration for all books no matter what, even those that had become junk, useless at best and misleading at worst. So one day, I gathered up several old science books, (especially precious to me) that had become obsolete, incomplete, and just plain wrong. I first considered donating them to the local library’s used book sale, but for reasons similar to those you have mentioned about your old religious books, I didn’t want them confusing and misleading kids with their incorrect content. Some well-meaning thrifty parents would pick them up for fifty cents each, and not knowing any better, would give their kids outdated science books, setting them back a step instead of helping them forward. So I carried them to the paper recycle bin, took a deep breath, bit my lip, forgave myself, and…… DUMPED THEM!
Liberation! The moment I did it I felt so much better, like having a great big and long overdue crap. I went through my morbidly obese home library and I kept the classics, the valuable collector’s items, the still-current reference books and a couple of childhood memory indulgences. I gave the novels I’d finished to friends, donated appropriate ones that I would not need again to the library book sale, and having some empty space on my shelves, realized that those books I had kept were smiling back at me with their genuine value. My collection was more of a treasure, not less, because they were selected and kept for the value of their content, instead of stored mindlessly simply because they were books.
Thomas, If you find those old children’s religious books to be so vile that you shudder at the prospect of children finding and reading them, then let them be “born again” as paper bags and ceiling insulation. Save some trees. Unless you can find some kind of museum or institution that is dedicated to the scholarly study of religious schlock where they can be safely locked up, then help kids be safer by eliminating hazards like unexploded ordnance, bottles of caustic chemicals and to use your own word, “poisonous” religious junk literature.
Thousands of new, first edition books are printed each day, and thousands of books go out of print each day. Regardless of their subject, most of them are tripe. They were not worth printing in the first place, they are not worth reading now, and they will not be worth keeping to catch dust on shelves or in attics. Keep or share the few good ones, and toss the dross. They’re yours. You have the right to dump your books, just not somebody else’s. Don’t worry, somewhere, somebody else will be keeping their copy of the rubbish you cast off, but that’s their problem.
If you’re still stymied by the taboo against throwing away any books, think about how automatic, how reflex is your reaction to the object itself, a book. Try this thought experiment:
Imagine that you find on your doorstep a single page flyer from some horrid racist hate group. You look at it, curse at whatever low life creep left it there, and rip it up. Now imagine instead that it is two pages. It has the same content, but it’s folded and stapled into a pamphlet. You curse and rip it up just the same. Now imagine instead that it’s twenty pages folded and stapled into a booklet with a cardstock cover. Exactly the same revolting and infuriating lies are inside, but now it’s beginning to resemble a book. Maybe you begin to hesitate about trashing it. Ask yourself how far along does this have to go toward resembling a book until it becomes the sacred object that must never be destroyed no matter what its content? If you can’t bring yourself to destroy it, then somewhere along the way you have switched from assessing its value by its content to assessing its value by its physical form.
Maybe in this way you can see that you are attached to the object, to the form of these things, instead of making a judgment about their value or lack of value. Maybe you can shrug off your old injunctions against destroying any book no matter what it is, and be able to mindfully choose what is yours to keep and what is yours to discard. Get rid of clutter, claptrap and crap. Be free!