Ask Agatha: Can I burn my ex’s books?

Our wise bookseller Agatha answers all your tricky questions. If you have a question for Agatha please email

My boyfriend left me because of uncertain reasons. I have some of his books. Is it morally wrong to keep the one I like and burn the rest in a pit?

Don’t punish good books because their owner is terrible. That’s my motto. Give those unwanted books to a secondhand shop, a charity shop, a free library (like the Little Library in Melbourne Central), to your book-loving friends or even leave them somewhere appropriate with a ‘free to a good home’ sign.

But do feel free to burn his clothing, photographs or mementos if that will make you feel better – sometimes a good, cleansing fire can be just the thing to put a bad boyfriend behind you.

I’ve heard the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante are amazing but every time I look at the first book, My Brilliant Friend, I feel apathetic about it. Should I just give up, or are they as good as people are saying?

As you can only read so many books in a lifetime my general rule of thumb is to never read a book just because I feel I should read it. If there is a ‘should’ involved here it’s that reading should be an enjoyable activity and I tend to dedicate my time to books I want to read.

This said… The Neapolitan Novels really are something special; they simply wouldn’t have caused so much noise if this wasn’t the case. Our own reviewer writes of Ferrante as ‘effortlessly able to destabilise and dismantle (the reviewer’s) notions of self’ and this sentiment is echoed across other reviews, with many readers left shell-shocked - including myself. If you’ve only looked at My Brilliant Friend as yet, and not opened it, I’d recommend you take this next step. Allow yourself around 50 pages or so to make up your mind before you make a decision.

Help! It’s my turn to pick the next book for book club and because I’m relatively new to the group, I want to impress everyone with my excellent taste. People seem to have quite literary taste so to give you an idea, our last two books have been The Goldfinch and We Need New Names. What should I suggest next?

Looking at these two novels I see you have one Pulitzer Prize winner and one Man Booker Prize-shortlistee. Keeping in line with this theme, you could look to some other prize shortlists for ideas.

Evie Wyld’s Miles Franklin Award-winning novel, All the Birds, Singing is exquisite and haunting, while by all reports, Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (which won this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction) is challenging but brilliant. In other literary prize news, the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize will be announced overnight in the UK and you may like to recommend whoever the winner is. (Browse the shortlist here.)

For my money, I’d recommend you run with the new novel from Marilynne Robinson (an award-winning author) that only just arrived today.

We’ll be publishing Agatha’s next column on Tuesday 28 October. All questions answered on our blog will be kept anonymous and questions will be chosen at Agatha’s discretion.