Ditch my books? Oh, no!
By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista
Books. Among the people I know, books are the hardest possessions to get rid of when editing their possessions. Even using the phrase “get rid of” seems too harsh when it comes to books—sort of like murdering a friend.
Books hold memories beyond their own contents—memories of when, where and why you read them, how their content reflected your life at the time, what adventures they prompted and the disasters that may have ensued. Our most-loved books, or at least mine, have aged along with me, acquiring wrinkles, creases, rips and stains inflicted by a well-read life.
I have a small box of outdated tourist guides that are more potent mementos of my travels than the now long-forgotten souvenirs I lugged home from Greece (Greece on $5 A Day—now there’s a throwback to another era!), Brazil, Calcutta or Peru. No doubt their information is useless but merely riffling through their pages prompt images of folk dancing on the beach in Mykonos, shopping a flea market in Buenos Aires, or photographing a rickshaw driver in repose in Calcutta.
Some books evoke particular eras of my life. I can think of three examples that turn back the years each time I catch a glimpse of their covers: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook taught me to deal with a life issue, tie it in a package and tuck it under the eaves of my brain’s attic—not gone, not forgotten but no longer possessing the power to interrupt my dreams. I read The Women’s Room, by Marge Piercy, in college and know it influenced my feminist persona. I still long to wander the United States on the Blue Highways described by William Least Heat Moon, discovering “three-calendar” country diners, eavesdropping on insights of the local denizens.
I may be part of the last generation with an attachment to physical books; my son sells them back to Amazon as soon as he finishes reading them (sometimes he does regret this). I guess I’ll get used to it—after all, I’m probably among the last to have grown up with three channels on the television (not to mention the revolving dial and, later, the wired remote).
Still, some books don’t rate room on the bookshelf—some never even make it past the bedside table. In my case, those are the novels that, once read, go right back to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. But for those books that may be more difficult to part with, here are a half-dozen ideas for placing them in new homes:
- Set up a Little Free Library. This charming “take one, leave one” book-sharing movement zoomed from a one-man tribute to his book-loving mother in 2009 to an international phenomenon, with more than 32,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the U.S. and countries from India to Italy. The idea is simple: Erect a book box on a stand curbside, place your adoptable books inside and invite passersby to take a book—free—and leave one, if they are so inclined. I once left an 24-inch plastic brontosaurus on top of the Little Library in my neighborhood, knowing it would find a good home. Building a Little Free Library is a great project for kids, too.
- Donate to a school or college. This is a particularly good option if you have a topic-specific collection of books. The director of a Stanford University journalism fellowship program winnowed his extensive library by donating to a nearby community college. No need to aim for Harvard University or Berkeley. Nearby community colleges and high schools would probably welcome books related to their programs, such as journalism, design, construction or historic preservation. If you have children’s books, find an age-appropriate local school and see if any teachers want books for their classroom.
- Seek out collectors. If you have a narrowly focused collection—on history books, cook books, atlases or some other specialty—find others who collect on the same topic. You may have a rare book and not even know it. When I sold my house in St. Louis, I took a bunch of books to The Miriam Switching Post, one of my favorite non-profit shops. The great thing about the Miriam shop is they provide year-end, itemized lists of your donations for tax purposes. I was perusing my list when I noticed this item: Two books, value $460. What!? The titles were specified but the individual values were–one for $340 and the other for $120. I have no idea what these were and I for sure never spent that much on a book! Probably there were decorative books I picked up for a few dollars to use as platforms for a lamp. At any rate, someone at the Miriam Shop researched their value. At first, I was aggravated that I didn’t do that myself. Then I realized I never would have done that, would also never have found someone to buy them. The tax credit was great, though. If you think you have books like that, advertise on Craig’s List, check websites like The Book Collector or look at the ads in publications such as First, The Book Collector’s Magazine. Be very, very careful with this option–I sense their are some among us who could be lured into a new collecting habit. You know who you are.
- Sell them—in bulk, if possible. If you have a lot of books with no particular pedigree, call local second-hand book sellers and see if they will buy the whole lot for a single price. If you are having a garage sale, books usually sell relatively well. Just don’t expect to get anything more than a pittance for most—and resolve to banish any that don’t sell to your local thrift shop. Remember, the idea is to get rid of the books. Price ‘em low, to encourage everyone to buy an armload.
- Give them to prisoners. The Prison Book Program is a grassroots organization founded in 1972 to send free books to prisoners. The website points out that most prisons don’t allow family or friends to send books to prisoners–they must come from a bookstore or publisher (the old hollow-out-the-book-to-hold-something-illicit problem). The Prison Book Program is affiliated with a bookstore and gets books from many different sources, to serve thousands of prisoners each year. The website includes links to local Books for Prisoners programs, to cut the cost of shipping. While the organization delivers books on many subjects and genres (see the list on their site), there is high demand for two types in particular: Basic legal information and dictionaries. They even have a special program to purchase dictionaries in bulk. (I’m so tempted to visit a thrift shop I know of that is over-stocked with dictionaries, I suppose because anyone with access to Spellcheck doesn’t need them.) Unfortunately but understandably, there are restrictions on some books–no books with a spiral cover, no writing in the margins, no children’s books, nothing with weapons on the cover, no chic-lit, romance or (obviously) true crime. No travel guides, either.
- Goodwill, of course.