Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bettering The World, One Book At A Time

Admitting this probably qualifies me as a borderline candidate for that A & E show Hoarders, but whatever: I hate to part with my books. Someone once joked that I think of my books as children -- and they were right. When I moved into my first apartment here I bought an IKEA bookshelf and, despite my Bryn Mawr degree, failed to assemble it correctly; it slowly devolved from a rectangle into a parallelogram until, on one hot May night, it imploded with a resounding crash. As I ran around picking up books from the floor I felt like I'd stumbled upon the scene of a school bus accident. It was traumatizing.

There's something reassuring about the physical presence of books, perhaps because they remind me of the houses I grew up in. Overflowing shelves were (and still are the norm) at home, and as a little kid I remember feeling anxious when I went to places without any books. Hardcovers especially are soothing in their solidity, and there's something very special about the visual and tactile convergence that occurs when you're confronted with a truly beautiful book jacket.

I think I also like to hold onto books because, in my warped mind, they serve as a tangible chronology of my intellectual and aesthetic development -- each is strongly connected to a different period of my life. When I hold my tattered copy of Middlesex I can instantly remember how blown away I was while reading it, so much so that I started it in the airport lounge at Dulles and had finished it by the time I landed in Cairo 16 hours later. There are books I read in high school and college, full of scribblings in the margins that were intelligible then but now look like squashed insects; books my mother read and loved, and then passed on to me; books I've had the privilege of working on so far in my editorial "career".

However, there's a point at which a book collection can become confining rather than defining. I'm not yet a warped little Gollum, crooning away away in my tiny cave while stroking the spines one by one, but in the spirit of spring cleaning I do acknowledge that a careful culling is in order. I've previously equivocated about this because I'm never sure what to do with my jettisoned titles. I can't bring myself to cart them off to the Strand: it would feel like I was selling my children into slavery. And I can't bear to leave them on the curb, abandoned to the whims of passers-by and the weather.

All hesitation disappeared, though, when I received an e-mail from my wondrous fellow blogatrice, Claire Kelley. She wanted to get the word out about a "book drive" event this coming Saturday for Books Through Bars, a non-profit organization that works to furnish prisons with books. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of this project, but spending a few minutes on their website was inspiring. As a lowly publishing worker bee, my wallet is woefully thin -- I certainly can't give financial help to worthy organizations as freely as I'd like. But I can give books. Lots and lots and lots. Details about the event, which is being held at Brooklyn's Freebird Books, are at the end of the post. Several of us are planning to attend, and we'll probably be writing about it next week.

Knowing that my books will be "paying it forward" in the world makes parting with them much, much easier. If you too feel burdened by your bookshelves and/or are inspired by the warm winds of spring to have a massive clear-out, I really urge you to read below about this event -- or, if you can't attend, research another way in which you can help your book change someone else's life.

BBQ and Book drive for Books Through Bars / Saturday, May 8, 2-6 pm
“Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.”
--Mark Twain

Just a reminder that if you have leftover books and are looking to make space in your cramped apartment, we are leading a book drive on May 8 for the grassroots organization, Books Through Bars, a non-profit which donates books to prisoners across the country.

So in the spirit of spring cleaning (you know those walls are closing in on you) and Mark Twain, whose passing 100 years ago we also note, we will make our backyard a book drop and party space for the occasion. BBQ and beer will be on hand, not to mention Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer T-shirts special for the occasion (from our friends at Novel-T). All Freebird’s proceeds from the sale of the t-shirts will go to Books Through Bars.

ooks donated to BTB are tax deductible. Books Through Bars is especially looking for books in the following categories -- and preferably in paperback, to cut down on postage costs:

African-American history, especially 20th century
Native American history
Latin American history
Radical politics
Social sciences and psychology
Dictionaries, thesauruses, and Spanish-English dictionaries
Learning world languages
How-to (drawing, chess, sign language...)
Mayan and Aztec history
Memoirs and fiction by people of color
Poetry anthologies

That said, we don’t want to turn away any generous offers and what BTB can’t use will either make its way into Freebird’s general population or off to another charitable organization.
Freebird Books: 123 Columbia Street (between Kane and Degraw streets)Brooklyn, NY 11231718-643-8484http://www.freebirdbooks.com/directions.htmlNew hours: Sat-Sun 11 am-10 pm (def); Thurs-Fri 6 to 10 pm (mostly); the rest of the week (by chance)

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