Stripped, Pulped, and Panicky

Okay. All prep done. I can go fall down now.

However, proving that arguing on the internet can revitalize even the most exhausted soul, I’ve discovered that apparently people are freaking out because when Waldenbooks closes, they will be stripping and destroying their unsold books.


In the interests of public service, let me tell you now, as gently as possible, that it is standard industry practice across most bookstores–including the majority of those good-natured little indie ones that give you tea and cookies when you come in–to strip the covers off unsold paperbacks and send them off to be pulped and made into more books. This is why there’s that little warning in the front of the book that says if you bought it without a cover, it was theft.

I mention this because apparently not everybody knows this, and there’s a lot of outrage at Waldenbooks for doing such a horrible horrible thing as Destroying A Book. If you are only now discovering that this is the fate of many many books, then…err…sorry to have to be the one to tell you. But, uh, you’re a couple of decades late to the party on this one. This has been the practice for a very long time.


This is not Fahrenheit 451. This is how you dispose of "Willy the Burrowing Wasp Visits Mr. Cow’s Spleen" and "The Secret(tm) for Dirt Farmers" and all the other volumes that nobody wants. Anywhere. And furthermore, this is the usual practice.

Yeah, it’s kinda wasteful. I wish there was a better method. But shipping them back would waste even more in terms of money, fuel, and packing materials, and the publisher generally doesn’t want it back. And they can’t be donated, because A) libraries really genuinely truly often don’t want them, mass-market paperbacks fall apart under library usage, to say nothing of the fact that many of these books are just plain worthless*–and a lot of thrift stores flatly refuse to take crappy paperbacks any more either, and B) the bookstore loses a heckuva lot of money on it. If the book didn’t sell, the bookstore gets a refund back, by sending those stripped covers as proof of non-sale.

And you can’t donate a stripped book to charity. It’s like donating stolen property. It’s a big legal no-no, and thrift stores won’t take them. And anybody who thinks that children and schools would luuuuv these books has,I think, a slightly skewed notion of what sort of books we’re talking about. Mass-market paperbacks are fragile beasts, and I don’t recall any class of mine in school that would have been improved by "The Joy of Canning Your Own Asparagus."

Well…maybe Geometry.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books. I love them deeply and passionately. I write them for part of my living. A book is a glorious thing. There are books that are dear friends to me. I live surrounded by them, and I never have enough bookcases and books are fabulously gloriously awesome things and much of my life is dedicated to ’em.

But a book is not a puppy. It doesn’t feel pain. And I have learned eventually that if I don’t want it any more, and the used book store has no use for it, and Goodwill has the No Books sign up, then y’know, that book can get recycled, and it’ll be okay. It doesn’t automatically get a chunk of valuable shelf real estate by virtue of being paper between covers. The ghosts of tiny angry words will not buzz around me like wasps. I will sleep just fine at night without that copy of "One Woman’s Journey To Self-Discovery Through Weaving Baskets of Nose Hair."

A book unread, unloved and unwanted is a dead book. I prefer to bury the corpse rather than keep it as a warning to the others.

So it gets pulped and made into more books (the fate of many of those coverless volumes being destroyed) and the circle of life is complete, lion cubs are held aloft on the savannah, Elton John sings, everybody’s happy.

End public service announcement. Keep calm and carry on.

*Individual libraries must speak for themselves, but just in general–libraries are not the burial ground for unwanted books. They have limited space too, and should not be considered the dump for any ‘ol book that the dumper lacks the moral fiber to recycle. Some libraries have book sales and can use these, but it should not be assumed that the library automatically wants it by virtue of it being book-shaped.

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