O.J.'s Dirty Book
How to recycle the Juice's "confession."
The principle behind shredding or chopping is that it increases the surface area that the decomposers (microbes, bacteria, worms, centipedes, et al.) can attack. Big clumps of book pages would stymie the decomposers and make the pile wet and airless; unshredded, Simpson's book would literally muck up the compost heap.
Decomposition works best when you make a mixture of woody, carbon-rich waste (stuff like wood chips, straw, dead leaves, twigs) and softer, nitrogen-rich materials (vegetable peelings, grass clippings, faded cut flowers). So you'd need to balance your newly shredded HarperCollins carbon by forking in a roughly equivalent amount of green vegetable matter. (Here's a list of good stuff and a list of bad stuff to use in your compost heap.)
The next decision is what to use as a composting activator. This isn't absolutely necessary, but it provides food for the small, helpful critters that do the breaking down.
Stuart Campbell, author of my favorite compost-advice book, Let It Rot, e-mailed this advice: "I would suggest, in all seriousness (sweet irony of the whole OJ scenario notwithstanding), the use of manure. If thoroughly mixed with the paper and given enough time, it should produce wonderful, odorless yet fertile mulch. Any and all kinds of animal manure (other than human) would work well. The 'hottest' manure, in terms of its ability to decompose adjacent materials quickly would be chicken shit."
A useful rule of thumb, by the way, is that the smaller the creature, the more potent the manure—bat guano, whew; elephant poop, mellow. Most experienced gardeners are fond of cow manure; the journey through a cow's four stomachs usually digests weed seeds. Blood meal is a common manure alternative, but perhaps not a tactful ingredient in this context.
Every few weeks, the gardener would then turn the pile over with a manure fork, mixing green and brown. Give it some water if there's no rain. By next spring, If I Did It would be turned into the best possible (and free) soil conditioner. Basically, you'd have re-created what happens naturally in the woods. Instead of fallen leaves and pine needles breaking down, you'd have the words of O.J.
Seems like a lot of work, but far more challenging composting problems have been mastered. See "Composting Catastrophic Event Poultry Mortalities," a paper from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. (In heat waves, cramped chickens often die en masse.) The Kansas State University newsletter for the cattle industry, "Beef Tips," thinks even bigger, providing information on "mortality composting."
From there? One L. Mark Finch composed a poem called "Compost," which begins with these heartfelt lines:
When I've left my husk and you've had your weep
Toss me out on the compost heap.
Mix me in with the leaves and such
And sprinkle some water—it won't take much,
Stir well with a fork, or whatever you've got,
Do what it takes to help me rot.
Walt Whitman, an earlier and somewhat better-known American poet, wrote "This Compost," which includes the following:
Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and
It grows such sweet things out of such
Constance Casey is a former New York City Department of Parks gardener and writes the monthly "Species" column for Landscape Architecture Magazine.