08 January 2022

30,000 books "will go in the trash"

In the mid-1980s, a band of booksellers moved into the empty barns and transformed [Redu, Belgium] into a literary lodestone. The village of about 400 became home to more than two dozen bookstores — more shops than cows, its boosters liked to say — and thousands of tourists thronged its charming streets.

Now, though, more than half the bookstores have closed. Some of the storekeepers died, others left when they could no longer make a living. Many who remain are in their 70s and aren’t sure what’ll happen after they’re gone.

It’s not just the businesses at risk. It’s Redu’s identity.  This is a place that celebrates itself as a “village du livre,” or a “book town.” Its public lampposts and trash cans are adorned with bibliophilic hieroglyphs.

But what happens when the main attractions become less attractive? This is the challenge the village du livre must now confront.  Those who are less hopeful say their trade has fallen out of fashion, and that people, especially young people, are reading fewer books.

“The clientele is aging and is even disappearing,” said Paul Brandeleer, owner of La Librairie Ardennaise. Now, at 73, he’s living off his retirement pension. A sign in front of his store used to advertise his services as “achat — vente,” or buying and selling, but the former has been crossed out. He doesn’t want any more books.

“I have 30,000 books, but when we disappear, they will go to the trash,” Brandeleer said. “We have no kids to take over — they are not interested.”
The story continues at The Washington Post.


  1. Kind of book related: https://www.vulture.com/2022/01/stealing-books-before-release-mystery.html The Spine Collector For years, a mysterious figure has been stealing books before their release. Is it espionage? Revenge? Or a complete waste of time?

  2. While it at first sight feel sad, we should acknowledge that most books will go into the trash. Unlike many readers of this blog, few people really keep more than about halve a book shelve, with the more prominent half of the shelve dedicated to family pictures. They just trash books a while after they've read them.

    So do libraries. They constantly purge less read books for new books. And while libraries try to sell them for pretty much nothing, most of those books get trashes because.... they're not very popular ... anymore.

    And how many of us have had to clear out the home of a recently departed family member or friend, and end up trashing most of the books? When my grandparents moved to a retirement home, a local book dealer took maybe a box of books from my grandparents' wall filling bookshelves. As did we. And teenage me was put in charge of dragging all those books 5 floors down and dumping them in a trash container. I tried to save some, but had to acknowledge that there were very few I was interested in.

    Trashing an old book is not that sad. It's just an acknowledgement that literature is alive and doing well and publishing new and exiting books that people want to read. And that the book was good enough to not be trashed when it was new.

  3. Are any of those 30K books really worth anything, or are they just "airplane" books, pulp printed to be read and left behind?

  4. Nepkarel makes an interesting case, but I don't buy it. The fact that trashing books is commonplace doesn't mean it isn't sad: many forms of tragic loss are commonplace. In particular, historical and cultural amnesia, to which large-scale book-trashing contributes, is commonplace. Bottom line: If one perceives as sad the loss of books en masse because our collective attention has momentarily veered elsewhere, and those whose attention has not veered elsewhere are not in a position to acquire them, then it is.


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