Where do books go when they die?


IT SEEMS THAT I most of my life writing books.

Or reading books.

Or reviewing books.

Or blogging about books.

But one thought continually haunts me.

What happens to books when they die?

Books have life.

Their characters are real, even if on a printed page.

Those characters fall in and out of love.

They betray each other.

They hurt each other.

Sometimes they even kill each other.

They live in the present.

Or far in the distant past.

Or on a galactic star somewhere in the future.

But those characters, at least for three hundred pages or so, let us through the door so we can wander for a time in their world.

They break our hearts.

They frighten us.

They make us laugh.

They make us cry.

We love them.

We hate them.

And we miss them when they are gone.

But what happens when they leave us?

What happens when the final page is read and the book is closed, sometimes forever.

I ask again.

What happens when books die?

I went to a book burying ground last week.

It wasn’t a cemetery.

It was an antique store.

And there in a dusty corner I found shelf after shelf of books that have been neglected, abused, and forgotten.

They were the books that had died because when books are no longer read, they simply don’t exist.

It was a sad sight.

It grew even sadder.

One of the books was mine.

It had water-mark stains.

The book jacket was gone.

The cover was warped.

A page or two was torn, and almost all of them had yellowed,

I spent a dollar and bought it.

I don’t know who originally owned the book.

I don’t know who threw it aside or away.

I only know that those were my words inside.

And it was worth a dollar to give them a chance to live again.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • I don’t know whether I would have bought my own book under those circumstances, but I came up with a different story:

    Your book was bought. In hard cover! It was read first by the wife in the family, She took it to the beach, where a page or two got stained with seawater because she couldn’t wait to be completely dry to get back to it.

    When she was finished, she recommended it to her husband – who read it in snatches between playing with the kids – and lost the cover because he wasn’t careful, but he really liked it.

    Then the twins each read it, taking turns, in bed on that vacation – which is shy the book is warped – they couldn’t share nicely because each was desperate to find out what happened, but they had to do things like go swimming with the family.

    They left it, with regrets, at the vacation house they had rented – because they had so little space in their suitcases on the plane ride home.

    Meanwhile, the book entertained mobs of other vacationers before, finally, the house was cleaned out at the end of the summer, and the damaged damp books had to be let go. But the store it had been donated to – you don’t toss good books, you pass them on – found that it was dry enough, and put it on the shelf – where it earned them a dollar, and went home with a good man.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I like your story, Alicia, and only hope it touches on a little truth. I would like to know my book had that kind of life.

      • I toss the bad ones; I don’t bother to donate them to the library book sale. Or I let my chinchilla nibble on them (as I did with Peter Blatty’s Dimiter – it was SO disappointing after The Exorcist).

        If you are going to write about certain subjects, you had better be as good as Nabokov – and his character wrote from jail. Then the fascination of the good writing can pull you in, against your better judgment, so you are willing to examine a subject you resist even thinking about.

  • Darlene Jones

    Some of my favorite books are old ones published a long time ago. They would be in that pile if I hadn’t rescued them or bought them from Abebooks. I often wish I had more opportunities to look through old forgotten bookshelves.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Going through those shelves of old books is like taking a vacation.

Related Posts