The Strange Pleasure of Destroying Paperbacks

It was a pleasure to burn.
The first line of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 lingered above my head, a dust cloud of self-conscious parody, as I ripped a paperback Debbie Macomber romance in half. I dropped the halves of the destroyed book into a plastic tub and reached for another. Like a papery slurp, a satisfying sound, the tearing.
Six months ago, I was still working at a used bookstore in North Charleston, where we exchanged used books for store credit. Part of the job entailed pricing these books. We referred to laminated charts on the wall and adhered the correct stickers to the covers’ lower right corners. At first, I struggled to apply the sticker correctly, the small rectangle slanting askew when I punched the book with a price-sticker gun. If the books were in poor condition, if their spines were too bent, covers too worn, or pages ripped, we destroyed the books.
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When I first began working the job, the task inspired goosebumps. Seemed a sacrilege, maybe a crime. To destroy a book. The book as an object had long been a holy thing—I refused to throw away or donate books, my bookshelves double-stacked and overstuffed.
I tried to do it gently, the stitching in the book’s spine popping like muscled sinew, and this seemed like a too-slow torture. After a week, two weeks, I performed the role with glee. Sometimes I clutched both covers in two hands and tore the book completely in half, its innards fluttering into the plastic tub graveyard. We hardly ever gave this treatment to new or rare books, anything that could still be sold. But for a redundant romance novella, a Christmas one-off murder mystery, or a copy of Twilight (of which we had dozens, hundreds maybe), for these books came the tearing. This process made sense too because we often had too many books on our shelves and each day we performed the minor Sisyphean task of pricing and shelving new books. Hundreds arrived each day.
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It was difficult too not to feel an inkling of envy. How did these brainless books sell so well? How did they even get published? I waited until I had worked at the bookstore for three months before letting on that I too was a new author and I had a fresh book out. I was minted a real writer. I had waited because I was aware at how egotistical it sounded to announce so soon after meeting someone, “Oh, I’ve published a book.” Especially to English majors struggling to publish their own work.  But in the months after the first book’s release, I began feeling less and less like a real writer.
I had just returned, upon starting the job, from the biggest book festival I had ever attended in Decatur, Georgia, where I met several famous authors and gave a short reading and talk about my own book. I maybe sold two books that weekend and sat down to speak with my publisher about my failure to actually market the book. It came out the Spring of my senior year of college, and soon after I graduated, I dived into the messy world of food and beverage. The high of being a newly-minted real writer didn’t last long.
So of course I harbored some small meanness toward the plot-less romance novels, the bestsellers crammed with butchered sentences, and pop fiction flying off the shelves. My only revenge to maim the physical objects, proof of human hubris undone. How could anyone expect to create anything meaningful, write anything lasting, if one day it might end up bruised and un-sellable if one day I might be tearing it in half, partially mourning and partially celebrating the book’s demise?
I applied for the job at the bookstore to learn how the business, the real day-to-day 13047849_638515372962394_4552141268791718011_obusiness, of books happened. I learned that bookstore employees suggest books only because they love them. I learned that the business of selling books had more to do with practicality than any lofty ideal of selling literature.
But I knew also that it was a magical moment, when a customer approached the register with a book I loved. One I might gush about, enthusiasm spilling between us. The books were cheap too. Most were less than three dollars. And for that amount, I might send someone home with a small miracle.
[You can find copies of Derek Berry’s first novel Heathens and Liars on Lickskillet County on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and PRA Publishing].
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The Tablet Revolution

I’m writing this on the Nook tablet that I received from my awesome parents for Christmas. I felt very anxious about tablets for the longest time, wondering whether or not it would be worth owning one. Whether or not I could use it to write and read poetry.

The tablet does everything I’d like it to. I can write and edit files and even use it as a portable poetry archive. E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter apps make networking easier than ever. The tablet, however, may not completely replace my notebook which I can surreptitiously use during class, appearing as if I am taking notes. Also, I would regret forgoing the ability to translate beauty with ink.

Owning a tablet, however, makes a lot of things much easier. I always have a book on hand to read if I get blocked, I always have access to a hefty online dictionary and the best research material ever invented (the internet), and I can always jot down notes and character sketches no matter where I am.

This morning, I assured the ultimate greatness of the Tablet. As I sat before work sipping my pre-work coffee, I actively pretended to ignore that I was eavesdropping on the couple beside me. Here, everyone sits uncomfortably close, and because of this closeness, I could not write on my laptop. I began jotting down ideas and outlining on my Nook, which I can conceal. I feel strange writing while others are watching, though I usually enjoy the atmosphere of the coffee shop. And of course I enjoy coffee.

Normally, I sit, drink coffee, and work on my novel. Because of the awkwardness of penning new material before prying eyes, I usually take time to edit. And sitting in a warm place with coffee, refills only 25 cents– I can sit there all day. Today, the place bustled with unusual activity, as in every-table-is-occupied busy. So I began writing outside, but once I started making progress, I progressed inside to a newly vacant table next to Brad and Georgina.

At first I thought they were on a date, but it turns out they went to school together seven years ago. Turns out he is a fitness trainer from California obsessed with insane diets and strange trends. As he continuing talking, I realized that this materialistic, modern, crazy  guy would make a fun character. So I whipped out my Nook and started taking notes. I now have the makings of a very fun short story.

So, the tablet proved useful. I penned up an outline and no one knew any better.

Also, I downloaded the Angry Birds app and play it on the loo.

Another thing I received for Christmas was a pack of white v-neck undershirts which means now I can even sleep in v-necks. Literally no day goes v-neckless. It’s awesome.

Till next time.