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.
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.