Burning books conjures up ideas of Orwellian thought policing. Also, books are paper.

Bookseller: “Honestly some of these will end up in the trash.”

People react with dismay. How sad, right?

But booksellers know that many books are thrown out every day, from libraries and schools especially, and that donated books are often in bad enough shape to be targeted for recycling.

So why does everyone keep giving me funny looks when I’m just tryin’ ta burn some old books?

“This has nothing to do with censorship!”—always my point numero uno.

Big books burn like logs.

Books are sacred to book lovers, but to booksellers, not so much. Matt is fond of pointing out you can be a better seller if you have no preconceived notions of a book’s worth.

You find out pretty soon what a book’s worth is in the market. And the sheer amount of crap you see—now I’m talking trendy pop culture and political books, mainly—quickly lowers the bar for how bad off that copy of Eat, Pray, Love has to be for it to burn.

The typical fodder is old but not too old, disintegrating, smelly dictionaries, cookbooks, children’s board books, books stored in damp garages, and digests, books of the year.

We’re trying to connect with other book orgs who might want this stuff. The trick is getting books to those who want them from those who have too many! (As locally as possible.)

But here’s a secret: everyone likes it better when you burn books they hated in school. There’s a gut reaction to crappy English grammar schoolbooks, for example, not old enough to be rare, watching it burn on the fire with evil glee.

Matt: “Ivanhoe. Company policy to burn it every time we get it. Had to read it. Really horrible.”

It’s sort of a fun party game in which often, one or more books are rescued from the fire and read a little bit of, at least. One person took a book on music ensembles before I could pitch it in the fire.

“It burns like logs,” my friend said. It was true, the big hardcover, an encyclopedia maybe, would burn steady for 30 minutes. The pages made a heavy fan like cinder pile which when you spread it revealed pages you could read as they burned.

But books are sacred! Some books will always be bought and sold, kept in libraries, kept cherished on bookshelves. I keep about 5 out of every big donation for my own library.

But lets not pretend that’s the fate of all books.

Books are sacred. But books are also paper.

Reasons we support burning the occasional book.

1. past due condition

2. trendiness / overprinted

3. novelty-stupidity / not a proven seller over time

If a book has two or more of the above features, it’s burnable. For e.g. a crappy marked up copy of Twilight. That hits all three.

4. content issues

This is emphatically NOT about burning books whose ideas we don’t like. That would be infantile, authoritative jackbooting. The main reason we support limited burning of paper materials including books (if you’re having a fire anyway, you know) is the fact that the millions of books that are tossed out each week are not recycled.