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Why I give books away

People are always nonplussed when I share my passion for giving away books. I always have a box of books at the ready, and I have a bookshelf in the waiting room of my office that I keep fully stocked. The best way I can explain it is by sharing part of what I told my 2008 graduating class:

“My son was in juvenile hall, and I wanted to give him a copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which is Frankl’s memoir of how he endured life in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. But when I asked the officers at the front desk if I could give it to him, they said no. I was shocked and baffled. It’s a very small paperback book. Did they think he’d make a shank out of it? Seemed the worst he could do is make spit wads.

“No,” they told me. “All the kids would fight over it and the book would be destroyed.”

This told me the obvious, that there was poverty in juvenile hall. But there was something bigger here, a mindset of not having enough. So I thought, “All right, then. I’ll just bring books for everyone.”

I brought in boxes of books every week, and two things happened:
1) the officers contacted me to see if I could find a specific book for one of the kids, and 2) they asked if they (the officers) could have some, too.
The hunger wasn’t merely among the inmates but among the officers, too.

“Yes,” I said. “There’s enough for you, too.”

I wonder if a kid’s life could be changed simply by having access to an abundance of books. Simply by reading just one book that shows a life different from the one he knows. Who knows what one book can do? I think having access to books can have a huge impact on the choices a person makes.

I gave away more than 2000 books all over Imperial Valley that summer; the bulk of them went to juvenile hall and the navy base, and there were so many that I didn’t take the time to document them all on the Bookcrossing site. I decided that it didn’t matter, since the point wasn’t to track the books but to get them into the hands of people.

I’ll never know what impact any of this had. It doesn’t matter.
The books are out there.