I bought a used book a month or so ago on Amazon. It’s called News from the Border, and is a captivating memoir about a mother and her autistic son, written by Jane Taylor McDonnell. I had read her book on writing memoir, Living to tell the Tale, in which she used excerpts of her memoir to illustrate various tips about technique, and I enjoyed it enough to buy the book. As I mentioned, I bought the book used – why not save a few dollars, right? When I opened the book, the first thing I saw was a red stamp that said, “DISCARD,” with the name of the library it once belonged to. I immediately felt a little sad. Even though I had yet to read the book, there was something about the finality of that red stamp, the callous rejection it implied, that bothered me. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a book that was so clearly marked for the dump or some other such final resting place for garbage. It evoked an image of a stuffy librarian wearing a flowery shirt and a light cardigan sweater, glasses hanging on a sparkly chain around her neck, sitting in front of a stack of books that hadn’t been checked out often enough to warrant the space they consumed on a shelf somewhere. She opens each book, firmly pressing down on the plastic stamp that marks her prey as rejects as she moves each text to a new pile of “discards.”
Let me say, I’m not one of those people that is so enthralled with books that I treat each one as though it was as sacred as the Old Testament to an Orthodox Christian. I like books – very much, even. But I’m not generally that sentimental about them. In fact, I’m one of those people that likes to get rid of things, books included. When I get rid of books, I either sell them back to Amazon or drop them off at a recycling center that has a book section where others can come and pick through the books and take them for themselves for free. So, I guess I never thought that there is actually a cycle of life a physical book might have, with a sort of death at the very end. Obviously, despite being stamped “DISCARD,” this book has yet to meet its final end, so perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. Nonetheless, I just didn’t like that angry red stamp.
P.S. To my friends that have a library science background, I apologize for the blatant stereotyping. I am sure that none of you will ever be a stuffy librarian that wears flowery shirts, cardigan sweaters and glasses on a shiny chain around your neck.