Skip to main content

Is libricide a sin?

Have you ever thrown away a book? I don’t mean disposing of a book as a form of critical comment such as the Nazis did in burning books of Jewish authors, nor giving it to a friend, or passing it on to the local charity shop; I mean taking a book firmly in hand and placing it in a rubbish bin, saying “I have no further use for this book and am therefore throwing it away!”

I don’t know if I’ve ever thrown away a book but I’ve been quite comfortable in giving them to charity shops. Why is this, I wonder? I thought I’d coined the term “libricide”, but I see from Wikipedia that others have used it already to denote the act of destruction of books and other written literary matter.

So why do I recoil from libricide? Perhaps the choice of books we buy is an aspect of our identity. A stereotype in romantic comedies is our hero agonising over what books to display to impress his new girlfriend. “Should it be the Sartre, to show my philosophical nature? Should it be macho Hemingway or literary Shakespeare? I’d better hide the Barbara Cartland!”

There is a tactile and visual aspect to books; even the smell. I remember my Latin dictionary at school had a distinct smell of gin and tonic, although I can’t remember how I recognised gin and tonic as a young teenager. Producers of fine editions, such as the Folio Society, trade on production values other than the text. All this is missing with e-books, of course, but there is room for both in the same way that there are markets for fast-food and gourmet restaurants. The fast food outlet is there for refuelling; the gourmet restaurant for celebration. The e-book provides the text, while the hard copy offers these other dimensions of experience.

Anyhow, all this has come to mind as I have decided to dispose of those management textbooks that I haven’t referred to in ages. They represent the archaeology of my career – the topics and specialisms I was following at different times. Some of these books are of historical interest; the book on electronic data processing applied to business written 40 years ago seems positively antique!

But – as I believe libricide is a sin – I’ve decided to donate these books to the business school. I called the librarian; he was not particularly enthusiastic but offered to trawl through those I sent to see if there were some they would like to keep.

As for the rest?

Oh dear, I still feel guilty!

Saturday 15th May 2021
Hands on typewriter