Putting Books In Hands

by Jas Faulkner
BookClubSoapI swear, there are days when writing for this site feels like I’ve been jumped in to The Fight Club.

“You can write about this, but you can’t tell where…”

“I would appreciate it if you didn’t reveal my sources for….”

“Just don’t use my name.”

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly like The Fight Club.  After all, I’ve been talking about The Fight Club and the first rule of The Fight Club is you don’t talk about The Fight Club.  To be fair, the former social worker in me gets it.  Stay in the field long enough and you get a mental rolodex going for the official and not-quite-so-official sources for everything anyone might need and there are times when you feel protective of that information.  There is always that fear that someone will not understand the delicate balance that has to be maintained in order to keep that resource available when someone needs it. So, this is going to be a description, news that this is going on, not exactly a how to.  If you want to do this, you’ll find a way.

Where to start?

In spite of the news that the economy is getting better, there is still a large part of the population that is unable to afford books.

I know.  You’re probably thinking, “Can’t they use the library?”

In an ideal world, I’d say, “Yes.”

The reality is that public libraries are seeing funds and grants stripped away.  Hours are cut.  Accessibility is shaved away to a mere sliver of what it was.  In some places, the loss of funding is offset by fines.  If the library has done away with fine caps, some of them can grow to an amount that patrons can’t hope to pay.

Many schools no longer employ full-time librarians.  The always-open haven for kids who love books is now a two-to-three day a week opportunity to work in groups on projects.  The sweet solitude of wandering the stacks and discovering new intellectual rabbit holes to explore just doesn’t happen as often in school libraries. And that’s a shame.

Also gone for many parents are the weekly trips to a mall bookstore to get a book.  Those pocket books and arrow classics were proportionately far cheaper than the mass market paperbacks that line the shelves in airport newsstands and the display racks.

All of this probably sounds like a downer and for those of us who love books and can’t not spread the love, it is daunting.  It is also an occasion for many of us to say, “Challenge accepted” and look for ways to bring books to those who are doing without at exactly the time they need the heft of bound leaves and the delight of a story unfolding with the turn of each page.

Challenge accepted indeed.

Once or twice a month, the UPS guy brings a hefty box to my door.  The return address is usually a small town in Mississippi where my friends, Sam and Tab, operate their book store.  Some of these are flat-out donations of books that showed promise, but never moved the way they should.  Many of them were sent back and a few of the stragglers were kept in case someone wanted a copy or thrown in the box.

Also in the box will be a collection of used books that were taking up valuable shelf space.  Sometimes someone will come in with copies that are in better condition or are flat out prettier and the girls will give them trade credit for the happy karma of someone wandering around the shelves looking for a new book to fall in love with and the random kindness points that come when I find the book a new home.

Oh yeah, that’s my role in all of this.  When Sam and Tab and a few other booksellers send me their orphaned books, I spend an evening or two a week repairing spines, cleaning up covers and doing one of two, no, three things with them.

1.) A few places in town let me place books so their patrons can read them and take them home if they wish.

2.)  Sometimes I take a box of books and approach people.  This is sort of a continuation of the work I do every year with World Book Night.

3.) I donate them.

I am not the only person who does this.  Heck, the people who send me books to give away hand out quite a few themselves.  Why do we do it?  We love books and we feel that because we’re called to work around books and writing, this is an appropriate way to give back something for the good lives we’ve been given.

Let’s take a look at that list again.

1.) A few places in town let me place books so their patrons can read them and take them home if they wish. 

The businesses that allow me to drop off books: laundromats, a few small downscale groceries, coffee shops, and fast food places, are often patronized by the educated but underemployed, frugal and smart people who have had to shave their spending down to necessities.  Some of them have reported that they read when they can but have not bought a new book in nearly a decade.  Used books are bought when their income allows it.

Some owners have asked those of us who do this to mark the books “not for resale” so that the lot will not be immediately swept up for a trip to a local UBS or someone’s yard sale.  While it’s not my favorite part of this, I understand the thinking behind it.  A few business people have taken it a step further, they have installed book swap shelves that we stock.  People bring in books and take what appeals to them.

2.)  Sometimes I take a box of books and approach people. 

As a card carrying INFJ, this is the most difficult of the three types of book distribution for me. It entails me walking up and offering strangers books.  Because I’m talking about something I love, and I’m giving something away that I like, it’s rewarding once I get over my initial sense of dread about being in crowds or being the first to speak.

Some people never get past the idea that there is no catch.  I’m not trying to get their vote or ask them to go to my church or buy something.  I just want them to read.  I also do what are called “directed” or “controlled releases” a term that we’ve borrowed from Bookcrossing.*  How does this work?  Someone needs a particular book for a class or a book club or it just fits their situation.  That book is earmarked by either the booksellers or me and delivered directly to that person.

3.) I donate them.

The organization I donate to does all kinds of outreach and is funded mostly by the thrift store they maintain.  They sell a lot of books.  One thing that has struck me is the number of young people who come in there every week, a portion, if not all of their allowances dedicated to finding a new book for their library.  Even though I try to acquire books for every interest, beginning chapter books to YA novels are the ones I earmark the most for my favorite charity thrift store.

Okay, I know it sounds crazy to ask you to consider donating books.  After all, most of you are in the business of selling books.  The thing is, most of you love books, too and you love being around other people who share that passion. There is a part of being a book lover that is, dare I say it?…evangelical in nature.

It is also good business.  As a bookstore owner and book lover, you are providing a face for your business.  Your good work will be noticed. People like me, people who see your good work towards a more literate world, people who are close to those who benefit from your largesse, they will be the ones who elect to support you when they can buy a book.

Just some food for thought.

In the meantime, I’ve some books needing new minds to bring them to life.  Time to get out there and put them in waiting hands.


*I like Bookcrossing, but find the prep a bit too work intensive and people who find them feel a bit obligated, which runs counter to my intentions in terms of literacy outreach.

4 thoughts on “Putting Books In Hands”

  1. You’ve given me food for thought here, I wonder if I could do that here. It would make for an interesting travel experience to give away books as I walk.

    • Parks are a great place to give away books. I usually start with the park police and then work my way around. (It’s also a good way to avoid the police trying to find out who the person is trying to palm off copies of “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “Anna Karenina.”) One bit of safety advice: I pick busy times when the park is pretty heavily populated.

      Good luck with your quest and keep us posted!

  2. We often have a free box outside our one store where we will place books that sellers have asked us to dispose of . This works very well

    • I love that, Doron! What you may not see during your workday* (but I hope you get at least a glimpse) are the people who walk away from that bin many of them pleased to find a wished-for title or smiling at finding a new-to-them book.

      Maybe I’m wrong about this, but those discards could very well provide a gateway to readers who have gotten into a rut and find themselves reluctant to read certain authors or genres: The nonfiction reader who can’t bring himself/herself to spending credit or cash on a novel. The person who read every Louis L’Amour novel as a kid, and suspects they’d like Larry McMurtry, but just can’t bring themselves to crack the first Berrybender book.

Comments are closed.