Saturday, 28 June 2008

why you should throw books out

Most people, if they aren't going to keep a book, pass it along to someone else. But that's irrational if the book isn't good, says Tyler Cowen. You should throw it out.
If you donate the otherwise-trashed book somewhere, someone might read it. OK, maybe that person will read one more book in life but more likely that book will substitute for that person reading some other book instead.
The question is whether the book is worth it. You've read it and can make an informed judgment. It is your duty to do so--else you will be encouraging the propagation of bad books to the detriment of the good. Particularly if, like me, you are more likely to keep good books and dispose of the bad. "But note the calculation is tricky. Sometimes a very bad book can be useful because it might appeal to 'bad' readers and lure them away from even worse books." Another confounder is that some of the books I know are bad are just the only book I know on a subject--can I really recommend against such a one?

This is not an idle question: my small graduate department once maintained a room-sized private library of books in the field. Private libraries are discouraged by the university library system (for good reason), and so when we ran out of office space, the library had to go. Now we have boxes and boxes of books--some good, some bad. The university library wants them. But would it be responsible to give them?

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