Private: Librarians, avert your eyes

Christopher Howse tears pages from his books and encourages others to follow suit:

The first time I ripped the covers off a pretty little World’s Classics number, bound in blue, I blushed and looked round in case I was being watched. Now, it hardly raises my blood pressure, unless the spine is very hard to crack.

This is the last taboo….

I started by buying cheap books, like those Wordsworth editions, when I was off on holiday. To tear the pages out as I read them reduced my baggage burden. After all, these books cost £1 – less than a Sunday paper. And you wouldn’t take even The Sunday Telegraph all round the Alpujarras and bring it back neatly folded to Luton a fortnight later. Then I weighed a Wordsworth Woman in White against an old World’s Classic. The World’s Classic won by ounces. It did even better without its cover. And it only cost £2.

Even in England, there is an appalling danger of getting caught alone without something to read – stuck in a stalled train, or being stood up in a restaurant, or waiting at Accident and Emergency. (Macmillan read Aeschylus in a shell hole with a broken pelvis, hoping for a stretcher party; Gladstone read London Labour and the London Poor outside his dying father’s bedroom.)

Most books are hard to fit in a pocket without making you look like a trainee drug smuggler. But you can easily tear out 64 or even 128 pages and bend them into a back pocket. It makes the hands gloriously free on a walk….