My clear-out last week may have accidentally created a glut in the academic text market

I may have started a trend. In normal weeks this column hardly attracts a bulging postbag. Like everyone else in the known world, I receive regular letters from Keith Flett enclosing invitations to real beer and beards parties somewhere in north London, or complaining that my recent reference to "vintage claret" or "ripe pheasant" demonstrates once again how far I have drifted away from my revolutionary roots in the York chapter of the International Socialists.

But otherwise there is little more than the odd ingratiating postcard from ex-students contemplating the future need for a glowing academic reference, and three or four e-mails a year from people asking if I am the same Laurie Taylor who once went out with their cousin from Skelmersdale. I have also struck up a correspondence with a Mrs N Savage of Leamington who writes once or twice a year, invariably in response to an upbeat piece, to say that she completely shares my deep pessimism about the human race and to wonder whether, like her, I am currently considering suicide.

So I was surprised to find, after returning from a weekend of claret-drinking in the Cotswolds, that more than a dozen readers had been stirred to write by last week's admission that I had successfully thrown away over 600 academic books. Geraldine Thomas of Sheffield was typically breathless: "How absolutely wonderful to read about your clear-out. For years now, I've been sitting in my living room staring at rows and rows of books which I know I'll never read again but lack the courage to throw out. Most were acquired during my degree course in psychology at Birkbeck when behaviourism was all the rage. I never believed a word of all that Skinnerian twaddle, but I still go on giving house room to books that confidently suggest that the best way to understand human behaviour is by watching a laboratory rat negotiate a T-maze."

Tom Criddle of Bristol went further: "Immediately after reading your article, I went straight to my shelves and extracted all those academic books that I knew I'd never refer to again and took them straight down to my local Sue Ryder shop. I can't believe how ridiculous I've been for the past 20 years. Nobody would dream of keeping pictorial reminders on the wall of their student days - imagine coming home every night to a photograph of a female tennis player scratching her bum or a poster of Frank Zappa sitting on a lavatory - but there I was hanging on for dear life to copies of A S Newcomb's The Changing Role of the Prison Governor, 1955-66 and Mike Glover's Probation Work Re-Examined (1971)."

There is only one problem. It begins to look as though I may have accidentally created something of a glut in the academic text market. Tom Dilworth of Sheffield tells me that he contacted his local university library with an offer of 400 extremely out-of-date books on political science and was politely told that they already had their own extensive collection of unread books and were not planning to add any more at the moment. Nor did he have any luck at his local Oxfam shop, where an assistant said that they were sorry to turn down such an interesting offer but they couldn't even get to their own second-hand frock rack after an academic had dropped off 300 tomes on Soviet studies the week before.

There was only one dissenting voice. Adam Crowther decided to censure me for what he calls "downright philistinism" by sending a small parcel of books that he described as "genuinely useless". "You'll observe," he wrote, "that they all have one fundamentally debilitating trait in common - your authorship."

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