Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Book Rescuer

There's just something that bothers book lovers about the idea of destroying a book, even when there's probably no good reason not to do it. We all know that libraries have to cull their collections in order to make best use of their usually limited shelf space and we all understand that certain books do become useless because of technological changes and the like. But, admit it. Doesn't it still kind of bother you to think of trash bins filled with still-readable books?

According to this article from The Mercury News, it bothers Robert Wright a whole lot. But unlike most of us, Mr. Wright does something about it.
With the zeal of a soul-saver, Robert Wright has delved into garbage bins, filled up his minivan and made space in his San Jose basement, rescuing books once destined for oblivion.

This week, Wright, 57, rumpled in sweatpants and a T-shirt, rushed to Morrill Middle School after the Berryessa school board had declared 686 library books surplus. The teacher browsed through volumes laid out on tables. He filled boxes until the custodian turned out the lights and chased him out. He returned Friday morning, his triumph mixed with amazement and distress.
A few years ago he rescued a hardback copy of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" and read it to his son, then 11. They ended up going to the bookstore to buy the rest of the classic "Narnia" series.

"I know that an instruction book on how to use the slide rule would be obsolete, but novels by C.S. Lewis?" he asked.

Wright acknowledged that middle-school kids won't pick up a book with an unattractive or worn cover, an odd title or outdated contents. But he finds even some of those useful. "Homemaking for Teenagers," with instructions to girls on how to make a husband happy, for instance, is a historical artifact and can spark discussions about stereotypes, he said.

Many of the books he salvages end up in his English classroom at Morrill. When a student neglects to bring something for free reading time, Wright may hand him a rescued book like Paul Zindel's "The Pigman," about two high school kids who befriend a lonely man.

"After I force them to read the first five pages, they're hooked. I have to tear it from their hands," Wright said.
Robert Wright is doing his bit to extend the lives of books on the brink of destruction, once again proving that good books don't die - they are murdered.


  1. That's wonderful. I'm always distressed at the idea of perfectly good books being thrown in the bin. I loved living in Baltimore, where the Book Thing puts unwanted books into reader's hands. Have you heard of it?

  2. Wow, he's great...I agree about those old homemaking books being a good jumping off point for discussions about how women have changed.

    The Pigman...that's a blast from the past. Paul Zindel was very popular when I was middle and high school.

  3. In case you weren't aware of this already, is a site that sells used books. A lot of their books are ones that are rescued from library overages, saving them from landfills. They also donate profits to various reading charities around the world. It's a great organization!

  4. " is a site that sells used books... rescued from library overages, saving them from landfills. They also donate profits to various reading charities around the world. It's a great organization!"

    Bwa-Ha-ha-ha-haaa! You should check the percentage of the money they "raise" that is sent to charities. "Saving them from landfills." Too funny.

  5. Jeane, I haven't heard of that does it work?

  6. Isn't it great, Bybee, how those old books we think we've completely forgotten can revive some vivid memories when we spot a copy or read about them? That's why books will never die.

  7. Jen, I've read a bit about that group but haven't participated in anything with them. I'm all for groups like those who redistribute books that would have otherwise been destroyed at the convenience of those who don't care enough to save them for others.

  8. Carrie... he would be thrilled to hear that, I'll bet. :-)

  9. Thanks for mentioning that group again,'s a good one.