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Is Recycling Books a Sin?


Friends know that my part-time job is managing the building I live in. You’ll never see me blogging about the tenants or confidential information, but once in a while some small aspect of the job cries out for a wider audience.

One of the little things I do is monitor a residents’ book exchange in our laundry room. People leave books they’ve read and pick up new ones. Whenever someone moves out of the building, the book exchange gets a mass donation, everything from paperback classics to law school reviews and songbooks. I recently picked up a ragged old copy of Lord of the Flies from the shelf. Dunno if I’ll read it anytime soon, but I couldn’t stand to leave it there, neglected.

We get a surprising array of books, and I’m always amazed when a well-known title sits unwanted for several months.

Some of the more prominent orphans are James Joyce’s Dubliners, The Great Short Works of Stephen Crane, Graeme Greene’s The Quiet American, Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe.

More esoteric material includes The Heat of the Circle: A Guide to Drumming, The Physician’s Guide to Life Extension Drugs, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution: Causes and Consequences of the Evacuation of the Japanese Americans in World War II, and audio tapes on parenting and sibling rivalry.

Thankfully, no one in my building picked up that drumming guide.

Here’s a look at the shelf today:
Book Exchange

About every six months, I mark the titles with a date so I know how long they’ve been there. Anything still sitting there after a year is a candidate for weeding. Most of the acclaimed and popular titles eventually disappear, while out-of-date road maps and instructional guides tend to languish unloved. My general rule has been to keep “the good stuff” in rotation and, gulp, toss the out-of-date reference guides and scholarly non-fiction into the recycling bin. Libraries don’t want the expired content, cafés don’t want anything so dull, and it can’t just sit there forever. Ditto weird musical manuals, magazines, and anything that is falling apart.

So, is recycling books a sin? Just for some books, or all books? Is it OK if the material is out-of-date but not if it’s revered? And what if that copy of The Dubliners just sits, and sits, and sits? What then? The paperback is in lousy shape. Is it my sacred duty to find it a home? If it’s not OK to recycle the paper, what should be done with the unwanted books? And even if I found a place to donate the most appealing titles to, what about the rest?

The fate of Charles Darwin hangs in the balance.


From → Books, Ponderings

One Comment
  1. mkcbunny permalink

    Thanks everyone for your votes!

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