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Small Talk: When good books go bad

If I seem just a little sad, it is because I must weed the non-fiction section of my elementary school library.

Weeding is pretty much like it sounds. There comes a time to go through the collection and pluck out books that are past their prime.

A determination must be made on whether the book contains outdated, or inaccurate information, like the entire computer section, every country and state book and, recently, some sports books (cough, Chargers, cough).

I also must decide if a book is just too beaten to survive another year.

It should be a simple task, but I have needed a few tomes pulled from my not-quite cold, dead hands.

These books have been a part of my world for 20 years. In a collection as small as ours, I pretty much know every book we possess, and like every honest mother, have developed my favorites.

Sadly, many of my favorites were published in the 1960s and have not aged well. Just replace them? These books are of an age where they are often out-of-print.

For example, there is a book I love called “Cooking with Chemistry,” with all sorts of cool recipes demonstrating chemical reactions, that end up as a sweet treat. It has been well-used, but it started as a paperback.

I have taped it within an inch of its little book life, but I believe its time has come. You can glue the spine and tape the pages just so many times, before any book threatens to just dissolve before your eyes.

Magnify this problem with any book that is not sewn or “library-bound.” When good commercially bound books are donated or the kids are clamoring for a particular book and it only comes in a paperback, I grit my teeth and slap it onto the shelf.

Better a short run than no run at all. Some older books are beautifully bound but have gotten dirty and sticky, and then cleaned, so many times, you can’t read the cover anymore.

There are also books with lots of excellent information, but contain something inaccurate now.

The best example is all our books on the solar system and Pluto.

Despite the ongoing debate, Pluto remains demoted and those books have to go.

I wince when I discovered some of my favorite poetry books haven’t been checked out since 1989.

Nonetheless, I will hang on to a classic, because, well, it’s a classic.

Meanwhile, my carts are groaning with the rejects and I process them with a tear in my eye – unless I find mildew.

Those go directly to the dumpster.

The rest will probably go to Liberia, via a book drive, or into the hands of the very children who have ignored them.

It’s amazing what they’ll read when it’s free and they can keep it.

Go figure.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who knows the minute she removes that book, someone is going to ask for it. Contact her at [email protected]