102. Fahrenheit 452: the sequel.

What should happen.
What really happens.

For Ian, get well soon!

Gas prices are rising so we need to keep burning carbon on the stove. There is less junk mail to burn nowadays, but there are the weekly leaflets from Spar and Lidl and even better, the journal BJPsych International. This is my system: one small firelighter, a few crumpled pages from BJPi, some bramble twigs and some lumps of Colombian coal / smokeless mix. Apply the match and close the hatch!

Burning the written word always comes with a tinge of guilt. But paper is renewable and psychiatric literature is mainly only of any interest or use to its author’s CV. I just set fire to ‘Stressors and mental health in Bangladesh; current situation and future hopes’. No disrespect at all to Bangladeshi colleagues – I also burned papers from Sri Lanka and Norway. I read them first of course – I’m not a monster. Suffice it to say that mental health services are abysmal the whole world over and not just in Lincolnshire.

Last year though I did struggle with disposing of a lot of books. I went through the proper process – gave some away to charity shops, sold some on ebay, sold more on Music Magpie and stored a lot more in a container park, where for a fixed monthly fee, I can postpone the problem indefinitely, like the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

It comes to a stage where you are dealing with books with 100% certainty of never being opened or read. For example, beautiful, glossy law textbooks just a few years old (they keep changing the law apparently), instruction manuals for Betamax video recorders, anything by Dan Brown, but, most of all, Life in the Fast Lane, the Johnson Guide to Cars (B Johnson 2007) . 

And that’s when the recycling centre comes into play. The sturdy paper-disposal bunkers are militaristic, the only openings are horizontal slits at the top. If there is a shoot-out at the recycling depot, this is where the snipers will hide. 

There is no room for second thoughts. I nearly put in the Haynes manual for the Mazda RX3 but an invisible hand prevented me, even though I’m pretty certain there’s not a single RX3 left in the whole world. That’s the trouble with books. Ever since Fahrenheit 451 was written, in fact ever since some Nazi supporters burned books in the 1930s, disposing of books has been regarded as antisocial to the point of barbarism. That’s despite the invention of word processing, digital storage and ereader devices which can store every book ever written without even warming up. 

Books made of paper, like sound recordings carved on vinyl, have attracted a devoted following of romantic luddites who would regard my Kindle Oasis as the height of vulgarity, even if it contains all the Booker Prize winners (though these were actually downloaded by Mrs EP without my knowledge). 

Even though you can alter the font size. Even though you can turn the page by moving the thumb one millimetre. Even though it has an automatic adjusting backlight. Even though it weighs only 188 grams. (If you’re reading this Jeff, please send the cheque to the usual place).

Part of that is a knee jerk reaction to large tech companies dominating retailing, but part of it is a refusal to face the fact that space is limited in modern houses. 

I searched on Amazon books using the term ‘decluttering’ and this brought up 75 pages worth of books about the subject, ironically nearly all of them available as hardbacks or paperbacks. If you bought all the decluttering books available you’d be a bit of an oxymoron.

A famous study  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0049089X18300607

showed that children with a larger home library were more successful. Possibly this is why Wetherspoons started having book collections in some of their pubs, to make their customers more intellectual, though it’s possible that rows of books are now cheaper per square metre than pub wallpaper.

Reading the study more carefully it looks as though you get most of the benefit from a modest increase, up to about 80 books, so one trip to British Heart Foundation in your Volvo should do it. And it’s possible to buy books by the yard:

Bookbarn give 5 examples of using yards of books: authentic books for an office space, furniture showrooms, coloured books for google offices, London theatre sets and set design for TV shows. 

Can you imagine? ‘I’m from google, can I have 10 yards of coloured books please. It doesn’t really matter what they are about’. Did that really happen?

But why not try getting a few yards for Johnny’s bedroom to give his brain a boost, in case there’s a causal relationship between a bookish environment and intellectual development? You don’t need to read the books, you just need to have them about the place to create a scholarly atmosphere.

As soon as that thought occurred to me I wished I’d never visited the giant pulping modules at the recycling centre. At least I’ve still got the RX3 manual.