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Murdering Books Is Just Fine, and Here’s Why

Book murderer discourse on Twitter

Twitter is in an uproar after one user posted a picture of several books sliced in half and explained that a colleague had called him a “book murderer.” Books, however, should be whatever you want to make of them—as long as they’re being read.

Now, there’s a couple of things going on in terms of the widespread reaction to Christofi’s Tweet and the fact that David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is trending on Twitter. First off, there’s discourse over the morality and the decision to “murder” a lengthy book by slicing it in half for ease of carrying. Some people treat their tomes as precious objects, and that’s also fine, even if I generally disagree.

Secondly, there’s a sideways conversation occurring over the choice of books Christofi has on display, especially Infinite Jest, which has come to be seen as a sort of shorthand for white male literary posturing—Eau de Guy in Your MFA.

There’s no doubt that many, many folks have had a visceral reaction to seeing those chopped-up books. SparkNotes is sending in a SWAT team:

They were reminded of former tragedies:

The most common reaction was a mix of disdain and horror.

And a helpful alignment chart was made:

Call me chaotic evil, I guess, because I’m with this Twitter user:

I love books. Like many writers and ardent readers, I adore and venerate the object. I was raised by a Barnes & Noble. I once ran a bookstore! Certainly, rare books and special editions should be preserved and kept intact—and you should never mess up someone else’s book that’s not your own. But also as a writer and a reader, I don’t see why it’s so troubling to slice up a mass-market paperback, if it means you’re actually going to read the book.

I love nothing more than well-read books with dog-eared pages, pages folded down to mark your favorite parts, spines cracked to show just how much that book has been treasured. When people who keep their books practically frozen in carbonite lend me one, I hate the feeling of having to handle it with kid gloves. It’s a book. It was meant to be read, not kept looking like a new car. Take that baby for a spin.

I’m obviously in the minority here, and I’m okay with that. I think it’s good that humanity, in general, has a kneejerk reaction to the purposeful damaging of books. Too often the destruction of books has been a tactic of censorship and a mark of fascism. But that’s not what’s happening here, so I think we can all take a few deep, calming breaths. And if you like reading actual books, the paper-bound product, but find it difficult to carry, say, all of Les Misérables with you on the subway every day, I’m giving you permission to cut it up. Victor Hugo has already forgiven you.

As for Christofi’s choice of books—well. Add me to the list of people who are unperturbed by seeing Infinite Jest get the shears.

There’s also the fact that Infinite Jest is a slog to read under any circumstances, but makes even less sense without its accompanying footnotes—which renders it a curious choice to be sliced.

And thus the discourse becomes a mystery. Did Christofi, the book murderer, actually read Infinite Jest, or did he, like so many before him, pretend to read Infinite Jest for some imagined clout understood only by guys in your MFA? If so, does that mean he cut up a bunch of books in order to start a Twitter readers’ war? I have many questions. But even my rejection of Infinite Jest doesn’t mean I’m backing down on my stance that it’s just fine to halve your books if it means that they’ll be read.

I’m very sorry if you’re reading this and you’re a fan of both Infinite Jest and keeping pristine dust-jackets. We would probably not be friends.

(image: Pexels, Twitter)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.