Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Love Affair with Books (How to Break Up with a Book)

The New York Times has an interesting article this morning about book lovers and how difficult it is for them to part with their books. Of course, that's not a new concept to people who bother to read books and book blogs. We all understand the pain, I think. What I find interesting in this particular article is the idea that libraries can be used to put old books "out of their misery" if their owners can't bring themselves to do the deed.
A library is an obvious recipient for giveaway books, so I trotted off to my local library in Larchmont, N.Y., to find out about their experiences.

Nancy Donovan, who has worked at the library 18 years, says she is quite familiar with the overly attached syndrome.

They can’t throw them away, so they give them to us even if they are old and moldy and mildewed,” she said. “And then we throw them in the trash.” I have no doubt that this is exactly what happens all the time when readers have such strong sentimental attachments to their books that they can't stand the thought of tossing even the worst ones into the trash, no matter how terrible their condition may be. Box them up, instead, and let the local library do your dirty work.

Ms. Donovan hastened to say that the library was happy to receive good books in good condition, but that a book “has to earn its keep.”

“It has to be current and in very good shape,” she said.

Larchmont is probably more a reading community than many other parts of the region, where more media, like DVDs and CDs, are checked out of libraries than books, Ms. Donovan said, but even so, the library can take only so much.

“We say we will take one container per household per week,” she said. And no cheating — you have to be able to carry the container and fit it through the door.

“We’re fairly brutal,” she said. As is the case with donations to most local libraries, some of the books are tossed, and many others are sold for 50 cents or a dollar to help finance the library.
If you're more into adding books to your collection than into trying to reduce its size, the article also mentions a website that may be of some help. I haven't been to the site yet but it sounds like another good one.
However, Better World Books ( offers a different option. Started by some freshly minted Notre Dame graduates in 2002, it collects used books and textbooks from about 1,000 campuses and 700 libraries nationwide.

As an individual, you can donate if you pay for shipping yourself; but you can buy anything off its Web site and shipping is free anywhere in the country.

“It’s like 1,000 sidewalk sales rolled into one,” said a co-founder, Xavier Helgesen. He estimates that his organization receives about 15,000 used books a day and sells about 5,000 daily.

Some of the unusable books are recycled, many of the textbooks are sent to universities in Africa and of all the books that are sold, a certain percentage of each sale — it varies but ranges around 15 percent — goes to nonprofit partners promoting global literacy.

Ms. Burger of Princeton Public Library says her library sends books to Better World. A neat option on the Better World Web site lets you type in your ZIP code to find out if your local library donates to the group. You can buy specifically from that collection and up to 35 percent of what you pay for those books goes back to that library.
Free postage is always a good thing.


  1. This is one way I am very different from most book lovers (including my husband). I don't do what I call "hoarding" books. If I KNOW I'll want to read a book again in the next year, I keep it. Otherwise, if I want to reread it in the future, I can always get it from the library. I think I became this way from moving a lot. Books are heavy and time consuming to pack!

  2. I'm getting rid of books now that are old, mildewy, and not worthy of being taken to 'Half Price Books,' the library, or sold on eBay. My collection includes a lot of old social work textbooks, from both undergrad and grad days (~12 years). It's just time to bury them, I guess.

  3. Dewey's right, books are time consuming and heavy to pack but I'm very possessive about my books. I've moved several times in the past few years and despite logistical and monetary issues or the eye-rolling of my family members at my stubborn insistence, my books always go where I go. The only time we've been separated was the year I spent in Japan and I missed them everyday. I consider suggestions that I sell them a form of blasphemy.

  4. Ha ha, my husband has gotten that eye rolling from me and accused me of blasphemy!

  5. Dewey, you are the exception to the rule, I think. I wish I were more that way myself sometimes because I can't imagine what I'm going to do with all the books that I'm accumulating these days. It seems that the pace has actually picked up because I'm finding out about so many new books and new authors on all the blogs that I read. Help!

  6. Baabaanne, I can understand getting rid of old out-of-date textbooks and the like. That doesn't bother me so much. Strangely enough, even though getting rid of old textbooks is easy for me, I won't turn lose of old history books that have been shown to be more than a little prejudiced in their viewpoints over the years. Old biographies are much the same...even the ones that gloss over their subject's bad points (if they bother to mention them at all) are still interesting to me because they reflect the times in which they were written.

    I'm in trouble...

  7. JS, I hear you. I packed up about 10% of my books and took them to London and Algiers when I lived in those cities. It was like having a touch of home with me. But, even with all those books around, I still missed the other 90% that were sitting in a Houston warehouse.

    I worried about them, as it turned out, for good reason. Two cases of them were crushed and I had to get rid of them because it depressed me to look at them in that condition.

  8. I just wanted to thank you for leadng me to better world books! I just placed my order and will be recommending them to others.

    By the way, I am also a hoarder. Unless I really dislike something it stays.

  9. Isn't that a great concept and a nice site, Tara? I really like what they are doing there.

    Just think how many books you can add to your hoard. :-)