Claire King


Double Standards Recycling Angst

Posted on: March 30th, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

I am having a clear out. I am recycling many things.

This is a good thing. Good because I am lightening the accumulation of stuff which loafs around my house getting dusty and looking reproachfully at me as I fail to dust it in favour of doing some writing. Good because recycling is not the same as tossing things into landfills. So far so good.

My problem is with the books – I have Oh So Many books that, sadly, have come to the end of their days. I have given as many to the local library as they would accept, and am now left with several large boxes of dusty paperbacks, some of these are more than 25 years old. I will never read them again. I will never recommend them to visitors. I have no room to put them on book shelves. And yet I feel very twitchy at the idea of recycling them along with cereal packets, junk mail, envelopes and magazines.

And there’s the thing – why do I feel OK recycling piles of monthly magazines (costs £3 – £4 each) and yet vacillate over each novel (cost £5 – £8)?

Why does disposing of a book feel so personal?

20 Responses

  1. Pete says:

    Probably because you know someone has had to work hard for a long time to get that book out often for the love of writing whereas magazine writing tends to be a bit formulaic and is written by lots of different people ultimately for money.

    I had to get rid of a bookcase full last year to create space and I’ve only really regretted throwing away one book. Tell yourself, your house is a finite place and by recycling old books, you’re making way for new ones.

  2. I also feel a strong taboo against recycling books – perhaps it just feels too close to destroying them?

    I’ve given books away via my local Freecycle network, and also through book exchange services like BookMooch and BookCrossing. (BookMooch can get a bit pricey on postage, though.)

    And of course, all this does it let me feel as if I’ve opened up space for other books…

    • claire says:

      Yes that’s exactly it – it feels like destroying something that someone put so much effort into. Being in France there are limited opportunities for finding them good homes, sadly.

  3. A.J.Grace-Smith says:

    I banish books to the loft – albeit very rarely! – if I think that I’m unlikely to ever reread or refer to them again. If they stay up there for at least three years without my thinking about them, it shows that I’ve outgrown them. Then I try to get rid of them, somehow. Otherwise my husband just builds more bookcases. We’re going to have to move soon…

  4. Tracy Tidswell says:

    I can relate to this, I hate getting rid of books. I still feel disgruntled about a couple of books that a friend’s girlfriend borrowed and has never returned (they’ve since split up. This was 11 years ago.) A lot of my books have sentimental value, a lot of them I will never open again, but I do see every one as part of somebody. Maybe it’s because I write myself, I know that everything I write is a little piece of me. Although of course there is no logic in this, I’m sure that the articles in the magazines I regularly recycle are just as precious to their authors. When Jens and I moved in together, into a tiny rented house, we had to deal with a lot of extra books. We both tried to be ruthless and ended up taking a couple of boxes full of Swedish books to the local Oxfam bookshop. But even though I will never in a million years be able to understand enough Swedish to read any of those books I still have trouble walking past that shop without wanting to go in and buy them back. We have a pile of books each as a bedside table and our front room has a wall of books, none of which you can read as they are all piled precariously on top of each other and would squash a small child if you pulled one out. Our outside loo is full of books too. Have you a local charity shop you could donate them to? Or maybe not a local one because there is always the chance that you will go and buy them all back again! Or cafès? Or just leave them in public places! (But please don’t tell me where, I’ll have to get rid of a child to make room for any more books.)

  5. Helena says:

    We are always happy to receive book donations for our free lending library at the cafe. Could collect if that helps.

  6. Martha says:

    Our local charity shops swallow up books — and if you browse their shelves, they come and ask if you want a tour of the backroom or if you’re interested in any given author — it’s a personalised service!

    • claire says:

      That sounds fabulous. Charity shops are hard to find around here, and even then the market for English language books is teensy.

  7. Claudia Watts says:

    I’ve never thrown away a single book in my life. Sold a few textbooks (although I kept such gems as “The lactation of the Dairy Cow”!) and passed on holiday paperbacks to fellow travellers or charity shops. Otherwise, nothing. I still have most of the books I had as a child – my nephews got the rest. It helps that my parents never moved, so many of them are still in my mother’s house, but I still have books galore piled up on the floor here waiting for me to build more shelves!

    • claire says:

      I have all my old economics textbooks still and they are all totally outdated. But you never know when someone might want to know what we thought of the Labour Market back in the 90s. During a power cut obviously.

  8. Mike Clarke says:

    Maybe magazines date a lot more easily than books — worth both ways in their case as the covers scream that you should buy them NOW.

    Even so, I have huge piles of magazines I think I might read one day as well as books.

    I tend to hang on to any book I remotely think I might ever open again but have a bit of a cowardly route for the ones I do part with — I have an Oxfam book shop about 8 miles away in Thame.

    I’ve sneakily hidden very old paperbacks and even dated guides under something that looks vaguely saleable and let Oxfam do the recycling. I guess they might get some income out of it but at least it avoids me throwing the stuff out.

  9. I find it almost impossible to give away books I’ve read and enjoyed. I do find it easier to recycle books I’ve not enjoyed to charity shops or sales in the village hall, though.

    Even if I’m never going to read them again, I find their presence comforting and books are my memorabilia. They’re like a photo album or diary of my life. I can remember where I read it or what I was doing at that time in my life and, for that reason, I hate being parted from them, as they feel part of me.

    • claire says:

      Yes I’m with you on that, books feel like little experiences that have helped change the way I think, little journeys I’ve been on.

  10. Sherri says:

    I have only ever thrown one book away in the recycling – I disliked it so much I didn’t want to think I’d had anything to do with anyone else reading it so I wouldn’t even give it to the charity shop. That’s where most of my others go – if I liked them enough to give to a friend then I liked them enough to keep.

    Not wanting to change the subject but I think Pete is a little harsh suggesting that most magazine writing is a bit formulaic and ultimately done for the money. People write all sorts of different things for all sorts of reasons – and you could actually say that about a lot of books too.

    • claire says:

      That’s a really good point. The majority of magazines I have involve articles and news, and so I kind of consider that I’ve absorbed the information and can move on. If they had stories in I would probably feel differently. Because a good story could be read (in theory) many more times…

  11. Janetyjanet says:

    Can’t help you there as I still have the books I bought as a child – I’m going to just keep hoarding and let someone else sort them all out when I shuffle off!

Leave a Reply to claire