Did I give a kid a used book?

Here’s an ethical question — feel free to weigh in.

A couple of months ago I was staying the night with a friend of mine in Chicago, and I wanted to bring his 9-year old daughter a present. So I stopped at Borders and bought copies of two of my very favorite books from my own preteen years: Half Magic and The Pushcart War. Then I got on the bus to Chicago. I started out doing a little work, but I kept getting distracted by the question: would I still think as highly of these books as I did when I was a kid? So what could I do? I opened the bag and reread them both.

First of all, is there an ethical problem with reading a book en route to giving the book as a present? If you bought someone a coat, you wouldn’t wear it to their house. If you bought them a CD, you wouldn’t open the plastic and burn it to your hard drive. But somehow it seemed all right to me in this case.

Second, both books are still splendid, and I highly recommend buying them for any 9-year-old within arm’s reach. Especially The Pushcart War, which is that rare thing, a sophisticated political novel that makes sense to children. The book depicts a future New York City in which the pushcart vendors and the truckers go to war — it’s a wise and ambivalent look at capitalism, which appears in this book on the one hand as the health of the state, and on the other, as a big amoral differential equation, many of whose equilibria (e.g. domination of urban trade by ever-larger trucks to the exclusion of any other mode of commerce) are highly unfavorable, despite being successful solutions to some optimization problem having nothing to do with human life.

Also, it’s really funny.

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4 thoughts on “Did I give a kid a used book?

  1. John Cowan says:

    Ethically it’s fine, particularly if the book doesn’t look used (spine creases, dog-ears, etc.)

  2. Em says:

    Unless you were eating a hot dog with baked beans on it while you read, I think you are on ethically solid ground, especially considering you had the kid in mind while reading.

  3. Adam says:

    I would like to re-read the Pushcart War actually. Isn’t it a New York of the future as imagined in the 1960s? That alone would be pretty interesting.

  4. JSE says:

    Yeah, it’s written in 1964 and set in 1996.

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