What Do You Do With That Pile of Left Behind Books? August 13, 2009

What Do You Do With That Pile of Left Behind Books?

Reader Sarah faces a dilemma:

My mother has sent me boxes of books that I collected as a teenager, which she has been storing for me rent-free (thanks, Mom!). One of these boxes contains the first eight or so books from the Left Behind series, of which I was a devoted reader back when I toyed with charismatic evangelicalism.

I am simply torn up about what to do with them. I don’t want to keep them around (because on top of the dubious theology, they are large books and poorly written), but I am also a book lover that won’t throw them away.

Usually in this situation I’d donate unwanted books to Goodwill or sell them to a used bookstore for credit, but the thought of some wide-eyed 14-year-old picking these up and reading them just fills me with dread, partly because I was once that impressionable 14-year-old.

What should Sarah do?

Donate them? If so, where?

Dispose of them despite her love of books?

I suggest keeping them around, marking them up with your thoughts, and then making the donation to a lovely Christian bookstore. I’m sure a youngster somewhere will be pleasantly surprised 🙂

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • J. Allen

    recycle them…

  • lurker111

    “I suggest keeping them around, marking them up with your thoughts, and then making the donation to a lovely Christian bookstore. I’m sure a youngster somewhere will be pleasantly surprised.”

    If you do it in permanent ink. 🙂

  • I’d say recycle them. But with a caveat that I don’t generally approve of censorship so I find myself a bit torn as to whether or not purposely destroying Christian books counts.

  • mikespeir

    Hang onto them for reference.

  • I agree with J. Someone probably won’t buy a book that is obviously marked up, and would throw away one they found later.

    Think about this though: Why haven’t you considered burning them? That would be hard to do, wouldn’t it? I can’t even bring myself burn a replaced copy of the Three Musketeers. Even though it is lacking a front cover and had fallen into two pieces years ago.

    Why is that? Am I weird or would anybody else out there feel uncomfortable throwing a book into the woodstove or bonfire?

  • There are atheist groups with libraries you could donate them to…so at least they would be somewhere that some gullible person wouldn’t stumble upon them. Minnesota Atheists has a large library without a place at the moment…but that should change in the future. Otherwise…put them in the recycling container.

  • I would donate them to the library, mostly because I’m constitutionally unable to destroy a book.

  • Skysinger

    “I suggest keeping them around, marking them up with your thoughts, and then making the donation to a lovely Christian bookstore. I’m sure a youngster somewhere will be pleasantly surprised.”
    Sound deliciously subversive – if done properly.

  • nani

    i was once an avid reader of the Left Behind series, plowing through 7 of them in a week or two one summer. (i can read pretty obsessively.) the interesting effect they had was to make me want to not be a christian until after the rapture, because i wanted to be around for all the excitement, adventure, etc.

    being older and no longer christian, i think i might find the books far less interesting now. i remember that they did raise questions in my mind concerning some of the rapture teachings i had learned.

    i like hemant’s idea though. while i’d be initially annoyed to find someone’s thoughts scribbled all over a book i wanted to read, if they were interesting and thought provoking, it would be fun to glance into a complete stranger’s mind. i would imagine most bookstores would glance through the book before accepting it, and the writing would be fairly obvious. maybe some sort of fundraising book sale though?

  • It is abhorent to say that they are Christian books!!

    Whatever you do with them PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not allow them to get circulated back into the open market. Do not donate them because some one may come across them and think that they are sporting truth!!


  • Ed

    There was a recent “Ask Richard” article here asking pretty much the exact same thing. I thought his advice was excellent, so I’d go along with him on this if it were me.

    Aaron, nice to see you posting here too. I loved your article the other day, and I hope that you’ll become a regular around here.

  • Kimbo Jones: I’d say recycle them. But with a caveat that I don’t generally approve of censorship so I find myself a bit torn as to whether or not purposely destroying Christian books counts.

    How is that censorship, though? Censorship says, “You’re not allowed to read this.” Even those of us who despise the Left Behind books wouldn’t say no one is allowed to read them at all. So taking a few out of circulation isn’t a statement beyond, “I don’t want to be the direct cause of the passing on of this dreck.”

    I’d say kill them with fire. And I can’t even bring myself to take books I know I’ll never read again to the used book store.

  • Ted Powell

    Check with the JREF.”The Isaac Asimov Library at the James Randi Educational Foundation has many thousands of books on the occult, supernatural and paranormal.” They might like to have your collection. http://www.randi.org/

  • Sarah TX.

    (I’m the Sarah with the question, BTW).

    I didn’t even consider burning them! I have a very odd, and very strict mental block that will prevent me from burning them! However, the “burning them” suggestion somehow makes the “recycle them” suggestion seem less extreme…

  • bd

    If she wants other books she could stick them on PaperBackSwap.com.

  • Jen


    That way these books will go not to clueless innocents, but people who deliberately request them and would likely buy them regardless – plus, you’ll get a credit for each book you give away to get a free one in return. Cheap way to stock up on atheist books. 🙂

  • Richard Wade
  • TruFru

    As an avid book lover, I really hate those who write things in books. It’s hard to ignore these annotations when reading a book and I just get irritated.

    I guess recycling is the best option. If you want, you can remove the binding (if it is possible) before sending it for recycling. That way, nobody will ever get to read the book since they will first have to put the pages back together :D.

  • If you have a pet use them to line the litter tray, cage or hutch. Seriously.

  • I highly recommend composting them. They’ll serve a beneficial purpose that way.

    You needn’t be worried about destroying them. There’s a publishing company still producing them so it’s not like you hold in your hands the last copies on Earth.

  • Melissa

    I like Mark’s idea of turning them into compost. I bet they’ll be extra rich in nutrients with all the BS. Wish I’d thought of this!

    In the past, I have taken Left Behind books from workplace “exchange” and immediately put them into recycling.

  • Jim

    Destroy. I see no reason not to. Censorship it is not. They are your property and you have no use for them.

  • Perhaps read them again, but this time with the slactivist.com write up as an accompaniment. It will be a totally different experience.

  • Tyler in SoCal

    Hah! I own them too. Read em all. It was actually an interesting read…all the death and destruction, magical Jesus powers. I treated it like sci-fi.


  • How about starting a library where anyone could donate their kookoo books? I have a small collection of Jack Chick comics that fit right in. We could get all the greats together, like Behe, Ham, Hovind, Lindsey, etc.

  • EB

    I don’t see what the problem is. If you don’t feel comfortable having other people read them, and you yourself don’t want them… just throw them out. It’s not censorship, since the books are still readily available from other sources.

  • Shane

    Just recycle them, save them for camping and use them to start fires, or use them to line bird cages. It is still only paper despite the nonsense someone printed all over it. It’s not “censorship” unless you’re going to try to shut down their publisher. You can do whatever you want with your own personal copy.

  • CybrgnX

    I believe that MAKEZINE.COM has instructions on how to turn books into useful furniture. You wouldn’t want to turn it into a hidy-hole because statistics show most criminals are Xtians so if one burgaled the house it might be one of the items taken.

  • JudasHPriest

    sell them on ebay!

  • MrMarkAZ


  • False Prophet

    On the one hand, we librarians are overjoyed many people’s opposition to censorship or love of the written word is so strong, the thought of discarding or burning books is revolting to them.

    On the other hand, we more than anyone recognize individual books have lifespans. (Most of us, anyway.) A 30-year-old encyclopedia set is of little use to anyone except as a historical curiosity, and it could be dangerous to keep a medical text older than 5 years around. People want to donate 5-10 year old paperbacks all the time, but they’re of little use to us because: a) we have plenty of copies left from when we originally bought the title, because b) it’s always a popular mainstream title, and c) the cost of processing the item for the library (when libraries order books the vendor often does most of the processing at a cheaper rate than if we have to do it in-house).

    Recycle or compost them without guilt–they are your property and they are just 8 copies out the 100 million+ printed. You are not denying anyone the opportunity to read these books by eliminating your personal copies from the pile.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    dubious theology

    That’s redundant.

  • Keep them, read them again through your atheist eyes and blog about re-reading this series.

  • DreamDevil

    I’d bet they make great a great fire.

  • They’re only worth penny on Amazon.com so unless you want to donate them to a library that sells used books to raise funds my suggestion would be to toss them in the recycling bin. That way they could be (hopefully) turned into something that’s actually useful.

  • Amok Canuck

    Do you go camping often? Soak the books in paraffin wax and cut it in to quarters. Makes excellent kindling.

    If the stigma of book-burning disturbs you, try to think of them as last week’s newspapers or, merely paper. It isn’t like they’re part of a last handful of extant copies.

  • When I’ve been in the hospital I’ve received a number of religious books and I sell them on Amazon. At that point, the individual purchasing the book is going to buy it anyway. I’d rather they have my “used” copy than buy a new copy which will put more profits into the hands of the author.

  • Wallpaper your bathroom!

  • sc0tt

    Richard Wade Says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Read this.

    Excellent. I don’t understand why people put more value on the paper just because it’s arranged into book form. Read a book and when you’re done give it away or throw it away and … stop worrying and enjoy your life.

  • Seriously. Send them to me. I have a bathroom to remodel, and that would be pretty dang funny bathroom(wallpaper) reading.

  • Recycle them yourself. Do you have kids or atheist friends with kids? Teach them a little about science and a little about recycling with Kitchen Science.


  • Nelson

    BURN THEM! Christians have burned secular books all throughout history. Simply return the favor! 😉

  • If you have any friends who are collage artists, assemblage artists, or sculptors, you might see if they can make use of the books in their art.

  • J B Tait

    I recently donated a beautiful complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica 1945 (three banker’s boxes full) to Half-Price Books who will sell them as books-by-the-foot to set designers and artists to fill shelves. Perhaps you could take your books to them and suggest that would be the best destination for them.
    Then they will still exist for historical significance, and you haven’t censored them, but they are less likely to fall into the hands of the gullible.

  • J B Tait

    Another choice would be to use them for teaching purposes. “Here is what they published, and this is why it is bogus” lessons are usually accepted by kids just as well as, “here is what is right.”

  • Ned

    Hollow them out and store your stuff in them.

    Or Mail them to PZ.

  • littlejohn

    Look, we atheists are always claiming to be moral despite not believing in a god. This is a chance to prove it.

    How would you feel is a Christian took a dozen perfectly good copies of Origin of Species and sent them to the recycler, or worse, burned them to keep them out of children’s hands?

    Do the decent thing: Sell them to a used book store or simply donate them to a fundamentalist church or religious bookstore. The Left Behind books have sold gazillions. Putting your few volumes back into circulation won’t make any difference, and might save some poor religious family the cost of new books.

    I think the Golden Rule applies here. Treat them as we would have them treat us.

  • Use them to make a paper mache Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Recycle them yourself by turning them into pulp so you can make your own paper. I’m sure you can find some really simple instructions online. This can also be a great kids project. Use the paper to make Winter Solstice cards or decorations.

    Cut various words out of them and make your own Magnetic Poetry set. You should be able to find the magnetic backing in either a sheet or strips at any craft store.

    Don’t let your love of books prevent you from repurposing the materials in those books. The subject matter is an insult to books everywhere.

  • JudasHPriest

    Littlejohn, that is a fabulous post. Kudos.


  • Paul S

    I’ve seen a lot of stuff on the net where people use books for artwork. By carving away pages etc.. They would probably be a good candidate for something like that.

    The leftbehind books turned into a “NO GOD” slogan or something. That would be a suitable thing to do with them

  • stephanie

    Sell them to a used bookstore. I know my friend was looking for some second-hand copies a month or two ago because she wanted to see if they were as bad as everyone said they were- but there was no way she would ever give money or sales rank to the authors.

    By selling them, not only will you make some pocket change but that innocent person everyone is fearful about picking them up might just be another atheist.

  • J B Tait

    Excellent posts, Littlejohn and Stephanie.

  • Diggity

    No to the composting, unless you like a hint of bleach in your carrots >.<

    Paper is paper though, reuse or recycle. You like papermache projects? There you go. You have a fireplace? Save the pages for fire starter in the winter.

  • Lysistrata

    @falseprofit-Thank you so much as a fellow librarian the last think I want donated to my library is “another” set of the left behind series. The odds are high we are just going to put them in a book sale and it still could end up in the hands of 14 year old.

    Do any of the above-toss them, compost them, give them to an artist or trade them for something you want (I still can’t condone burning them). Don’t feel guilty these are mass produced books whose value will still be $.01 in a hundred years.

  • Brian C Posey

    Reading all of these comments I’m starting to question my taste in books. I have never been religious and never took the stories seriously. However, as fiction I thought they were pretty entertaining books.

    Although they did get progressively worse. I’d say up to about book 8 was when they were still good. Book 12 was one of the most boring piece of shit I’ve ever read but I had to finish it. I had come that far.

  • The Other Tom

    Sarah: You clearly recognize that these books are harmful and should not be allowed to fall into the hands of the gullible. It’s time to get over the irrational superstition about destroying a book. They’re bad books. Put them in the recycling bin, or use them in the fireplace, or use them as toilet paper… just make sure they’re destroyed. (Well, probably not the toilet paper, it could be bad for your plumbing. But you could shred them and put the strips in the guinea pig cage.)

    Everyone: This unwillingness to destroy a book, any book, no matter how horrific, is irrational superstition. We’re here because we supposedly believe in rationality and reality. It’s time to get over it. Got books that are out of date, or just plain untruthful, or which advocate violence or other behaviors of which you don’t approve? Destroy the books. They’re yours, they’re evil propaganda, and have no special built in virtue just because of being bound paper. Just get rid of ’em.

  • Use the pages to make a paper-mâché piñata, fill it with treats and let a kid whack the crap out of it.

  • Dan W

    I’d say, in regards to books like the Left Behind series, do anything that doesn’t result in them getting into the hands of impressionable kids or idiots who can’t figure out how badly written they are. Burn them, recycle them, let them get ignored on your bookshelves, but I personally wouldn’t donate or sell my copy of the first Left Behind book to any person or group. At the moment it sits ignored on one of my bookshelves, and I’ll only take it off to refresh my memory on how crappy it is.

    I have to add that I only got that book for a class, and, thus far, I’ve never bothered to read any farther than the second book. It was such a bad series that I gave up after the second one. Ugh

  • Chakolate

    What about using them for papier mache? Maybe make a sculpture of the FSM.

    Paper is paper, after all, even after it’s bound.

  • Turn them into performance art.

  • Staceyjw

    If I had the last set of these books in the WHOLE WORLD, I would GLADLY burn them 🙂

    No, I wouldn’t feel bad because I deprived someone the chance to read poorly fanatical drivel.

    There is a difference between “Origin of Species” and “Left Behind”- superstitious nonsense just does not deserve to be saved. And I am pretty sure many evolution books have been burned by xtians……

    Or- send them to me, my ferret always needs potty papers.


  • I really liked the advice that Richard Wade gave on this topic a while back. I think someone linked it already.

  • Books are tools. Don’t worship them or regard them as sacred objects. If a tool is useless and might harm someone what do you do? I’d suggest you pulp it. Include it with yesterday’s newspapers and recycle.

  • Kirk

    I saw someone else mentioned it already, but I’d also suggest http://www.paperbackswap.com

    Get them to someone who wants to read them, and in turn get something you want to read.

  • TheLoneIguana

    Make some Book Safes?

  • If you don’t have room for them in your library, dispose of them in whatever manner suits you. It’s not an act of censorship or suppression, as they are not among the last copies of the books in existence.

    But if you do have room for them, why not keep them. I still have my massive collection of various English translations of the bible as well as other religious works. They are all still useful resources. (Though newcomers to my house do sometimes get the wrong idea when they see that part of my “library”)

    By keeping these books on your shelves, you not only retain them for future reference should you have the opportunity to discuss them at length with anyone, but you show visitors who see your library that you have actually read “the other side’s” literature and can speak informedly about their literature. (“Yes, I’ve read Left Behind, have you read The God Delusion?”)

    If someone were to ask me, “Have you actually read the bible?”, I can point to my dozens of English translations and say, “Yes; I’ve read the entire work (plus numerous non-canonical books) cover to cover, studied numerous translations, and researched the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts.

    That research into bible translations and various manuscripts underlying the new testament was one of the factors that contributed to my evolution towards atheism.

    -The concept that the bible is the literal word of god is largely irrelevant if you understand that what we have today is AT BEST, an approximation of the original works- Even if the books in the bible were once the divinely inspired, literal words of god, we don’t have those books as written anymore. Once you question the authority of the bible, you kind of have to question everything else as well, unless you’re really good at compartmentalization.

    …or give them away for free to someone who wants them with the thought that you are depriving the author/publishers of the revenue form a book sale; it’s like legal piracy!

  • Decoupage! Open the book in the middle and then brush white glue thickly along the edges of both sides of the open book to stick all the pages together. Weight it down so it dries in the “open” position, then decorate the opened pages with paper cutouts or artwork or whatnot. (If you decoupage a birth announcement on one page and a picture of the baby on the facing page it makes a unique gift for a new mom.)

  • Brg


    Donate them to a University’s library in a secular country whose language is not English (México, for example; yes, the Universities there are secular enough).

    They will put them in their collection, where they will pass unnoticed. And if someone stumbles upon them, chances are that that person would be mature enough and reasonable enough to dismiss them as nonsense.


  • moe

    I pondered burning my philosophy of law book at the end of last semester because I hated that class so much. I had these wonderful images of throwing it in the fire pit and watching it burn. I think it helped me keep my sanity.

    BUT…. when it really came down to it, I couldn’t burn it. It was just too repugnant of an idea to actually follow through on. I ended up selling it back to the bookstore because at least philosophy of law isn’t that dangerous to your sanity.

    I think tho, for the Left Behind books, I’d say, recycle them. At least maybe then they could get turned into something useful, like toilet paper. 🙂

  • gmcfly

    Let’s not *burn* them. I would much rather see these books reused or recycled or composted than for them to be turned into free CO2.

    You might consider turning them into wrapping paper, or packing material for boxes, or exercise weights, or for pressing dried leaves and flowers.

  • I’ll actually go you one better and suggest that she use the books to make Fake Compartments.

    Such forms of bookcraft are tricky to work with because in the end, to a real bibliophile, it’s the destruction of a book in the name of craft that relies on books. It’s kinda interesting how that works.

    But the books themselves can be contacted or recovered in many different ways, and the insides used to store things like hip flasks, or rock hammers, or all sorts of neat things. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want, in some way or another, their own bookshelf hiding some nefarious thing?

    The craft of creating with books has always been a tricky one for me because generally, I don’t want to destroy any books, and I don’t want to buy good-looking books to transform them into other things. These books seem like prime candidates for this kind of malarkey.

  • johninmpls

    Maybe try something like this:


    It uses the book to create something – and subsequently destroys the book. Win/win.

  • Wendy

    Keep them and display them proudly, just for the pure hilariousness of it all!

  • Recycle bin them. Maybe parts of them will get used in the next printing of The God Delusion. 😉

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