Throw Down That Book!

Last week, I chastised my four year old son for throwing a book. He didn’t like it, so he threw it. “This is NOT how we treat books!” I said.

Then I refined it a bit: “This is not how we treat library books, anyway.”

Then I refined it some more: “This is not how I want you to treat library books.”

Because I am a hypocrite. I’m an avid book-thrower from way, way back. I think the first book I ever threw across the room in disgust was a Harlequin Romance, back when I was a teenager, and I’ve thrown a lot of books since then. I didn’t throw it because of some moral qualms, though I probably should have. I threw it because it was a waste of both my time and some senselessly murdered tree. It was a wonderful feeling to see those pages fly across the room looking as clumsy and ridiculous as the words inside it, and I’ve enjoyed throwing bad books on numerous occasions since then.

image by heidielliot on flickr

For instance, I once made the mistake of picking up a book at the library by, if I recall correctly, best-selling author Nora Roberts. (If I’ve got the wrong author, then I apologize for libeling Nora Roberts by accrediting this trash to her.) The first few pages read well enough, and then, while describing a man—or I should say a “man”, given the intensity of the character’s flame–holding up a beautifully decorated cake for all to admire, the writer puked this monstrous phrase across the page:

flaunting the potential heft of butter

And I roared! And I threw that book, because that was and still is the clunkiest, most pretentious misuse of the English language that I’ve ever seen in a real book. If neither author nor editors had enough sense to chase those words off the page before they made it to print, then the rest of the story didn’t seem likely to be a good use of my time, either. My only regret is that it was a library book, and I had to pay for some damage to the spine.

Book throwing is much harder to do these days, and much less satisfying as more and more of my books are digital, rather than paper. Somehow an eye-roll and an “oh good grief” as I remove the book from my virtual shelf just don’t produce the same mental effect as a good roar and then the thump of a Very Bad Book against a wall. I may have to get an old book to keep by my side just for throwing as a scapegoat for the catharsis of that thunk. My Kindle Fire can’t handle this level of abuse.

Something about book-throwing seems subversive to me, perhaps because of the lip-service educators pay to the power of reading. They have only a surface respect for real learning, though, because they have no regard for what a child is reading, so long as he is reading something. Our culture makes much of the Importance of Reading, as if there were something magical about the very act of picking up a book. Well, I hate to burst the bubble of any librarian who might be reading this, but there isn’t. A book is just an agglomeration of wood pulp, glue, and ink. The magic is in what books allow authors to pour into our minds.

Part of that rebellious feeling I get when scorning a book in this way comes from the fact that many, maybe all, of the books I’ve thrown have been best sellers. Dan Brown came in for the same treatment as poor Nora, (not with The Da Vinci Code, which I haven’t read, but something else) because—and I realize I risk being burnt at the stake just for saying this—Dan Brown has a poor imagination, no idea of character development, and even worse literary skills. I got that after suffering through 3 chapters. The rest of the world appears not to have caught on yet.

While some may think the length of a few pages isn’t long enough to decide if a book is worth reading or not, I believe that if a book doesn’t start well, we should all feel free to drop it like a hot potato and move on to something better. I used to doubt my own judgment on these things. In fact, I picked up the Dan Brown book and gave it another shot because he’s so popular. It was just as bad further in, so Brown holds the dubious honor of being the only author I’ve ever had to throw twice. I don’t know what other people are seeing in his books, but that doesn’t mean I have to do this to myself, does it?

The older I get, the less worried I am about missing out on whatever it is that’s causing other people to spend their hard-earned time and money on this sort of junk. Perhaps we don’t all need to be quite so violent in our rejection of them, but bad books don’t deserve further reading, no matter how many people have bought them. I have been an enthusiastic lobber of bad literature for most of my reading life, once I’d shaken off the tyranny of our culture’s book worship, and I think everyone should try it at least once. It’s good for the soul.

Readers, the next time you slog through a couple of chapters of shallow plot, uninspired writing, and unworthy heroes or heroines, just to see what all the fuss is about (I’m looking at you, Twilight fans), take a moment to consider that your life is passing you by, and there might be other literature out there that can do more for your soul.

And then throw that book against the nearest wall. Throw it hard!

Unless it’s a library book.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eryn
    Twitter: leighbra
    March 16, 2012, 7:31 am

    I’m not a book thrower (I also could never write in my text books in college. Just can’t do it. Can’t dog ear pages or crack spines or eat drippy foods over a book & send it back to the library [stop that, people!]), but I’d like to lament what technology is taking away from us.

    It’s not as satisfying to hit “delete” on the Kindle & it’s definitely not as satisfying to hit “End call” on the cell phone when someone is being a total prat.

    I miss the good solid “I am THROUGH with this conversation!” THUNK of slamming a phone down.

    My son found his first “I can not bear to finish this!” book a couple months back. He felt HORRIBLE. I told him life is too short to read books that make us miserable. And then the librarian told him the same thing & suggested 3 other books he may enjoy more. 🙂

  • Mary March 16, 2012, 9:31 am

    Hahahaha! I have been known to throw a book or two in my lifetime. Great and funny post, as usual.

  • Sonita
    Twitter: therubynotebook
    March 16, 2012, 10:20 am

    You know, I’ve said those exact words to my youngest son! LOL

    This is a large reason why I don’t read much fiction…there are some horrible books out there…

  • Joy March 16, 2012, 10:44 am

    I tend to scorn (fairly or otherwise) most books by “popular” authors. I died the whole way through “The DaVinci Code” for the same reasons you mention (and then slept through most of the movie…in the theatre…). Strangely, I still have this deep-rooted feeling that (almost) all books are sacred, just for being a book, even when the content is ridiculous, and would be shocked to find myself throwing one. I have, however, managed to part with a few of my least favourites, as I make space for more. Our sons have been known to be hard on a few of their books, and I may over-react, just a little, to senseless book damage – and like to flatter myself that had they been with us since birth, there is no way they would mis-treat books, however absent-mindedly. Ha ha.

    • Cindy March 16, 2012, 11:11 am

      Some books deserve to be damaged. 😉

  • Emily K March 16, 2012, 1:01 pm

    I am dying to know what Dan Brown book it was.

    And would you be interested in posting a book list of worthy literature for someone in the 8-10 age group range? I am never sure exactly what to get for him.

    • Cindy March 16, 2012, 1:45 pm

      I’ll definitely do that (if time allows) in the future! I’m pretty sure the DB book was Digital Fortress, but it could have been something else.

      • Amanda (the sister)
        Twitter: RamandaHarvey
        March 17, 2012, 11:58 am

        Digital Fortress was worthy of a good solid toss, that’s for sure.

        • Cindy March 17, 2012, 1:35 pm

          Yeah. I haven’t yet thrown a book you loaned me (though I may have very sternly closed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Fast), but I’m pretty sure I borrowed that one from Ryan. 😉

  • Mary Jo March 16, 2012, 7:17 pm

    Wow. I don’t even know what to say, uh, type… I’m laughing too hard! If I must admit it, I am a book-thrower too, but it’s usually over theology, politics, or some historical error. Being taught to reverence books, I actually scared myself the first time I did it. Some biased historian was totally butchering the Didache in his commentary. I was just a teenager, but it made me SO MAD that I couldn’t contain myself, and the book just flew across the room nearly hitting my mom– to the shock of us both! With age comes wisdom (maybe?) so I usually skim a book before even starting it, rather than wasting my time and denting my wall. Thanks for the post, I needed that belly-laugh after a very LONG day!

  • The Husband March 16, 2012, 7:51 pm

    I have the same problem with smart phones; you don’t get that same satisfaction gently tapping a glass panel that you used to get when you slammed a corded handset down onto the base of a phone.

    I’ve heard Prius owners express the same feelings trying to peel out of driveways….

    • Erin March 17, 2012, 11:42 am

      Best comment I’ve read in a long time-thanks for the laugh! I love the looks of disdain when I pull up next to a tiny hybrid in our ’97 Suburban. A few years ago the bagger (student from the local liberal arts college) at a food co-op helped me carry the groceries out to my vehicle, he couldn’t refrain from gasping when I stopped next to it.

  • republican mother March 17, 2012, 9:23 am

    The heft of butter! That’s funny to me, hahaha. I will say that I’ve done a very good job of training my daughter to ask me before reading a book. She is so much more sensitive than I wa about her reading choices, as I would read anything, even really, really bad stuff. As I was going through my school books in this last move, I pulled out some of those from high school like the Color Purple and Black Like Me. I “threw” them into the trash can because they were smut. This young adult lit is full of crazy stuff, so I won’t let her read any of it unless a fellow mom has been through it and told me it’s ok. I don’t have time to read anymore. Recently, she held up a copy of Jane Eyre and I said, it’s ok, but you still might want to read that when you’re a little older (as it invokes feelings more appropriate in an older girl). So she put it back on the shelf – it’s nice knowing that she trusts my judgement.

  • Erin March 17, 2012, 11:36 am

    The only book I’ve ever actually thrown across the room was a Physics textbook. Of course, I had to then go get it and keep working the frustrating problem. I have, however, gently tossed several in the trash. A previous commenter was right, hitting delete on my e-reader is not nearly as satisfying as seeing a horrid book destroyed.

  • Amanda (the sister)
    Twitter: RamandaHarvey
    March 17, 2012, 10:55 pm

    Ahh Memories…Yes, I recall vividly the reactions you have had to bad books–from flinging them across the room to saying “here, sis, you might like this” with a gleam in your eye 😉

    • Cindy March 18, 2012, 4:21 pm

      Miss you. I’ll save up all my recent tosses for your perusal.

  • Rebecca March 19, 2012, 5:23 pm

    Welcome to my world….I don’t throw ’em, cause I don’t buy ’em……but, I could tell you a few I have thrown….but, while I am at it…I’m sitting here with fellow blogger, Kelli (Adventures)…and we decided…we want some of whatever it is you take to write these awesome posts! LOVE YA!

    • Cindy March 19, 2012, 7:33 pm

      I don’t take anything but a deep breath, most of the time. LOL. You guys are awesome. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing
    Twitter: AdventurzNchild
    March 20, 2012, 12:50 am

    Girl – yer just plain funny – and as always – spot on! I actually read twilight – all of them – so I can vouch for this fact. Don’t ask why – I just did – OK?

    • Cindy March 20, 2012, 11:27 am

      I won’t ask. It happens to the best of us. Kind of like burping. 😉

  • kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing
    Twitter: AdventurzNchild
    March 20, 2012, 12:51 am

    Don’t tell anybody!!!!!