The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Books working their way toward the trash bin

“Books are sacred objects. Books are garbage. Between, the books with badly bent covers on the parsons tables of Midas Muffler and orthopedists’ waiting rooms. Books bought by the yard to complement the colors in the redecorated den. The tumbled remainders of remainders on the dollar store shelf, Geoff Dyer next to Christian fiction. The gorgeously designed new releases presented on the tabletops of independent bookstores as if they were hand-painted confections in a vitrine at Teuscher. Then there is the final stop, where some books are no longer figurative garbage. They are actual trash.”

– Melissa Holbrook Pierson in “Books are Garbage” in The Millions

People die, so perhaps we should not expect books to live forever.

But they can, if we let them. Go to a Friends of the Library sale, a used book shop, or–as Pierson suggests–the dump, and you can extend the life of books. Perhaps forever.

Of course, some books don’t have a chance at reincarnation because they are pulped, recycled into paper ultimately re-used for something else. This happens because books in bookstores are all subject to return if they don’t sell. However, many have been bent, smudged, or soiled by those looking for favorite holy writ. Unfortunately, books are heavy so it’s cheaper to grind them up than mail them back to the publisher.

When I had a paper route, I found all kinds of neat stuff thrown out in front of people’s houses for the trash truck. A lot of appliances found their way there that were easy to repair. Old chairs that I could sit in. More knickknacks to clutter my shelves. And, if I rode by before the dew or rain ruined them, books! I took many of them home. As far as I know, those I might still have are not going to sell at auction for $1000000000000.

When I was a kid, I often saved common first glass stamps off of incoming letters. My grandfather, who made thousands of dollars in his lifetime with his stamp and coin collections, told me saving those was a waste of time because there were simply too many of them. Unfortunately, the same thing has happened to books. Most books on eBay and reseller books on Amazon sell for a few pennies because that’s what people are willing to pay. The sellers make their money off the Amazon’s postage allowance.

I’ve found a lot of great reading material on eBay and the Amazon reseller pages. However, I refuse to buy indie authors’ books this way because they deserve the royalties. So do the famous authors, but they already got their royalties from their books’ initial sales while most indie authors have few initial sales (relatively speaking).

My small-town library held a used book sale once a year. Most of the books there were donated. Some were those the library no longer had room to shelve. $0.50 for hardbacks; $0.25 for paperbacks. I cringe at such prices, but realistically I know that if the library asked for more, the books would still be on those tables at the end of the sale.

As an author, the books at library sales, eBay, Amazon resellers, bookstore sales tables (a step away from being pulped) are a worse sight than roadkill. So far, science and religion don’t know how to bring roadkill back to life in this world. But books, we can still save just for the pleasure of reading something knew or cherishing an older edition of a classic.

–Malcolm

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