Earlier this year I wrote about one of the more controversial aspects of my job. I hear you snickering now. “Maggie works in a high school library. What, did she forget to initial a hall pass? Mis-shelve a book? Eat a banana under the No Food or Drink in the Library sign?” Yes to all of the above, actually, but I’m talking again about discarding books. Every year we select the poor waif-books that will find a home in a dumpster. Last school year we weeded through the social studies section, removing books that were worn beyond repair, hadn’t been checked out in twenty years—or ever—, had inaccurate information. There have been a few more presidents since FDR, for example, so The Complete Book of the American Presidents had to go.
This year, however, we’re discarding fiction, and I trembled to my chubby toes as I stamped “Discard” on Christie, Buck, Austen, Cather. Some of the volumes literally fell apart in my hands, and we do have newer, improved editions to replace the classics. But a great many, mostly paperbacks, had outdated covers, topics, excessive Scotch tape and graffiti. Ironically, those books which were once loved as much as the Velveteen Rabbit are now repulsive, victims of their popularity. Their condition and content no longer appeal to modern teens. It got me thinking.
Every author writes for a scrap of immortality. There’s good reason for “Never put it in writing.” The pen truly is mightier than the sword. Words live forever as long as there are readers to read them. Those of us who aspire to publication hope to move a future audience to tears, laughter and the parting of their $6.99. But someday, even if our talents and luck combine to produce a shiny pink or purple paperback (maybe even with a sexy stepback!), our baby will be tossed away by somebody just like me.
What do you do with your old books? What images do you like on your covers? I rescued this handsome edition of Wuthering Heights (circa 1959, I’m guessing), last checked out in 1995. I think the cover artist had a little “inspiration” from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. S/he’s changed her dress and given Madame a nose job, but the resemblance is unmistakable. When the original portrait was first exhibited, it was considered so shocking that Sargent was asked to withdraw it. It destroyed Madame Gautreau’s reputation, and Sargent became persona non grata in Paris. For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Madame_X