Recycling Literature

recycled pageMany subscribers to Mere Inkling share a common trait with C.S. Lewis. Like your humble blogger, you are lovers of books. We don’t need to apologize for it; it’s in our DNA.

We carry that astonishing gene that manifests itself in a passion for the written word. (It’s frequently inherited from a parent who possessed the same ardor.)

If you’re one of this corpus of literary addicts, you just nod your head in agreement whenever you hear Lewis’ oft-quoted, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

If you love books, if you don’t mind owning copies that others before you have enjoyed, and if you are on a tight budget, you might want to join me in becoming a customer of Better World Books.

[I have no interest in this nonprofit organization other than genuinely commending them to you as a wonderful source of inexpensive books. Most books have been officially removed from library collections . . . and require new homes. The “profits” are directed towards libraries and literacy programs.]

Many of us have enjoyed walking through rows of books on sale in local settings. This is a little like that, except that you can do digital searches and they have tons more titles available. (Literally.)

One of my recent purchases was Latin for the Illiterati. I purchased it the same day I bought The Anchor Book of Latin Quotations (for a secret project I’m working on).

Latin for the Illiterati includes “common phrases and familiar sayings,” that the reader is now able to decipher when encountered in classical literature. References do not have to be ancient to be included. For example, “salus populi suprema lex esto,” which means “the welfare of the people is the supreme law.” (But I didn’t need to translate that for you residents of Missouri, since it’s your own state motto.)

Quick test, which state has this as its motto? “Vox audita perit, litera scripta manet,” which means “the voice that is heard perishes, the letter that is written remains.” Actually, I cheated a bit, I don’t think it is any government’s motto, but it certainly is a truism that will resonate with readers!

C.S. Lewis valued rereading good books. In a 1915 letter, he wrote, “There is something awfully nice about reading a book again, with all the half-unconscious memories it brings back.”

In that same spirit, the following year he wrote to the same friend, “You really lose a lot by never reading books again.”

As I said, he was explicitly referring to revisiting a work already read. Nevertheless, I believe he would agree with the broader sense of his words . . . that it is a sad thing to see a book destined never to be read again.

Whether or not I am correct is irrelevant. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of books awaiting new homes. I don’t doubt that many of them “deserve” to be recycled for their raw materials. However, I also believe that the majority of them remain capable of teaching and inspiring. After all, litera scripta manet, right?

16 thoughts on “Recycling Literature

  1. Mike Bennett

    I sympathize with the objective, but i must say the prices are nothing at all like the annual book sale of my local library, where one can buy a shopping bagful for $10 give or take. And by the way donate them back before next year’s sale, claiming the well established market value equal to what one just paid for them. Makes the whole undertaking tax deductible.

      1. Houston Public Library system has sales like this each March in the convention center (for 35 years now. Members get in a day early for first grab) Books are about $2.00 – but there are collectibles priced higher.The last day you can take as many as you can stuff in bags for $10.00.
        There are great librarians in that system – they want books to have a home. WIn-win!

  2. CalebAnderson

    Very good post. Lewis, (I believe it was Lewis) also once said that for every new book you read, you should read one old one.

  3. Wow, thanks for this great link! It’s too bad we just dropped off 13 boxes of old books we culled at our local place that buys (some) books. I doubt we’ll get much at all for most of them! They’ll put the ones they don’t want in their free bin out front, so someone will get a chance at them. We just had to get those boxes out of the way, and it wasn’t doing the books any good being in our humid garage. However, just think–I now have 3 boxes’ worth of space I can fill up with MORE books from Better World Books!

    I also have some old favorites that I read over and over and never tire of, especially when I’m sick and don’t have the energy to tackle anything else. I hope our grandkids will love the 800 + books we have upstairs for them as they get older and learn to read on their own. They already have favorites that they love for us to read to them.

    1. Ah, making room for new books by passing on those already on the shelves. It’s tough, but it has to be done.

      As for instilling a love of reading in our grandkids… as you know it begins with us reading regularly to them, so they comprehend the wonders that literacy can introduce us to.

  4. Years ago, at a local library book sale, I took the sellers up on an offer of an $8 paper grocery sack of books.

    One of the books I chose was “The Three Edwards,” a history of Edward I – III, Plantagenet kings of England. I have never encountered this book anywhere else. It was a library reject. It turned out to be one of the most useful histories of the period I have read.

    Also in that bag was a small hardback book called “Taliessin Through Logres.” I bought it because I liked the title and the subject matter – although the word “Logres” puzzled me at the time.

    Decades later, I discovered that my $8 bag of books held a first edition of the work of Charles Williams, one of the Inklings. Not only was “Taliessin Through Logres” interesting as something that had been shared with the Inklings before publication, but it was also quite valuable in itself.

    The funny thing about that book sale is that what I really remembered before my discovery were the books I had to put back because they would not fit in my bag.

    1. Great story… made even better by the fact I got to hear it “in person” at our Writers Group meeting tonight before I had a chance to read it. Quite a prize you got in that grab bag.

  5. Thanks for the link! But you can’t beat the hunt through dusty old books in the back of some thrift store. Like Indiana Jones, but much safer!

    1. Yes, only a book lover can understand how quickly the hours can pass when you’re immersed in those shelves. To the uninitiated, that’s the very definition of boredom.

  6. I often buy books from Better World Books. I didn’t realize though that you could buy them directly from Better World Books. I’ve gotten mine from Abebooks is a collection of used book dealers. It’s really wonderful. They have almost everything you could ever want, even really obscure books that you could spend a lifetime looking for in bricks-and-mortar stores. I particularly like Better World Books because I’ve assumed they were doing good works with the money they made from their sales, but also because they have free shipping!

    1. It’s good that you mention Abebooks here, since I too have purchased through them. I’ve used them when I’m looking for something on the “rare” end of the spectrum, and not really thought about them for everyday reference. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I suppose the difference for me would be searching for a specific work (especially if I suspect it will be difficult to find) . . . as contrasted with browsing, as one would at a local library book sale.

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