Tearing Up Books

A client of mine, who is a rare book dealer, pulled a paperback out of his coat pocket.  It had the covers torn off and a number of pages removed. Slightly puzzled, and before I could start my “This is going to be very expensive” speech, he explained.

“When I’m finished reading a page, I tear it off and throw it away.  The book is much lighter and easier to carry.  I just do it with worthless paperbacks. Look, it is already half the size!”

I doubt any of us would have a problem with discarding an unwanted section of a newspaper.  Or a notebook page.

But a book! Symbol of permanence, order, fixed sequence and immutable fact. His action was as strong of a comment on the nature of books as many destructive and altered artist books I’ve seen. Or is it a manifestation of our single use, disposable, throw-away culture?

I couldn’t do this to a book. Could you?



13 Replies to “Tearing Up Books”

  1. No I could not. In fact, I have bought books to tear out the illustrations to frame – and then couldn’t. Got a few of those on my shelves – and probably, I get more enjoyment from picking the book off the shelf, opening it, and leafing through it – about once every few years. Also laugh at myself for firstly buying the book to tear out the pics, then not being able to, then reminding myself of the double failure . . . still tempted to buy another book to do this to it on occasion.

  2. Wow. That just seems so wasteful. Something is being destroyed, not to make a statement or to further a conversation but just because it is more convenient to the present user. I don’t think it’s a comment on the nature of books but definitely speaks to our society’s throw-away culture and maybe in some way to how we treat information in today’s digital culture.

  3. I once knew a woman who did that with travel books, so only carrying the sections concerning places she was going to visit. Reader, I didn’t marry her.

  4. I think the physical size of books, and the fact they take a lot of space to store, will be a significant factor in their decline. As well as the continually decreasing quality of new mass market books (not yours Graham!).

  5. I have a friend who did that when travelling: buy a cheap/second-hand book, discard it page by page, buy another… I suppose it made sense not to carry excess weight, but I made sure he never got his hands on any books of mine.

  6. The main reason I probably wouldn’t do it is it would feel messy in my hand to have to read from such a tattered object. Despite people romantic notions of “the book” modern books are essentially disposable objects. This is why they end up being used in so many art projects because their value as reading material is very minimal. [I work in a library and the tons of books we can’t even give away is evidence.] Owning a movie – whether on VHS or DVD – used to be a thing that meant something to people, but it hardly does anymore. Most books are about the single experience of reading it and that’s it. Still. I doubt I would ever do this book dealer’s practice because I like the physical experience of reading a book and reading a tattered book isn’t fun.

  7. Fascinated by the responses so far: I have done this, and will probably do this again.

    I do it while travelling: a cheap paperback (with paper due to disintegrate in about five minutes) is not an object of veneration. It is a book, and meant to be read.

    I used to do my vacations on foot —once logged 900 miles on a single trek— and now that I am older, do them by bicycle. A tandem in fact, but still I am resistant to carrying excess weight.

    There are a bejillion (number calculated in childhood) nasty rotting paperbacks out there. Some of them are worth reading. Some of them are about to be garbage whether I read them or not.

    The travel books do get read twice: I pass pages on to my husband when I have read them. He reads and discards them.

    My conscience is clear.

  8. I take apart travel books to lessen the weight. When only a tenth or less of the book will be useful and the whole thing outdated by the time I next need it, why not? But my travel literature, I leave in airports, hotels and other places for someone else to enjoy.

  9. No way. To give up a book is like giving away a child or some part of myself. If I do give one of my own library away it is to someone I think will appreciate it. Every book I purchase to give as a gift is thought through about how it will impact the person – not just the contents but also the binding, the type of paper used, the cover, etc

  10. I could have NEVER guessed that could be such a common thing to do!
    I am horrified, a book is a book. The same I don’t like throwing food even if I paid for it. Owning something gives us rights but also duties regarding to it, we should make the effort to make it as usable as possible, even when we don’t need it anymore.

    Throw-away “culture”: such an involution symptom…

  11. How far does the visceral disgust to tearing up a book go? Can it tell us something about where our culturally accepted ideas of a book stop, as well as their importance?

    Would printing out a book at home on copy paper, then discarding it provoke the same reaction?

    How about if you double fan adhesive bound this with paper wrapper?

  12. How can you know in advance (after the first page?) that you will not want to read the book again?
    There are some books I left in an hotel’s library which I should have kept.

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