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.

« (Previous Post)
(Next Post) »

7 Commentsto Why I give books away

  1. […] But giving away thousands of books hasn’t met that need the way connecting with people does. (Read about why I give away books here.)  I watched a brief TED talk this morning that showed me a way I can contribute:  You Matter  I […]

  2. bibliopirate says:

    I’m sure you had a great impact, or I like to think so. I’m a big fan of supporting prison libraries and the like, and juvenile halls need them even more.

  3. Ben says:

    That’s pretty awesome! Reminds of a time, some years back, where it seemed that I was moving in and out of apartments every few years and, after realizing how large a % of what I had to pack, lug around, and unpack were boxes and boxes of books, I sat down to take a hard look at each book in my collection. Would I read it again? If the answer was “probably not” it got boxed up and I eventually took them down to the local homeless shelter. The workers and residents were super-excited about getting the books and it made me feel great!

    This dovetails a little bit on something recent, I was lamenting that I’ve been too broke lately to buy any new books and someone said “go to the library and check one out.” I was stunned. I mean, I grew up practically living in the library, but every since I spent a year working part-time at Barnes & Noble, I’ve almost always bought books to read. It’s like the idea of going to library had totally been wiped from my mind. I’m looking forward to going to my local library soon and getting my library card 🙂

  4. OneGirlRiot says:

    I know what you mean about forgetting libraries are an option.
    I haunted libraries for 30 years from childhood, till I got divorced. After that, I gave myself permission to indulge in purchasing books (I’m the only book geek in my immediate family; buying books seems ludicrous and wasteful to most of them.)
    It didn’t help that I worked in a bookstore. Nor did it help that I discovered Abebooks.com or Amazon.

    I’m paring down my library now. It hurts, but only a little, because I understand now that I’ll have what I need or want when the time is right. (I have to repeat that to myself with every swoop through my shelves.)

    I’d like to share some books with you if you’re interested. 🙂 The odds are good that I have a few that will interest you. Just tell me the genre and email me your address and leave the rest to me. Please. I love it when my books land in happy hands.

  5. Ben says:

    That’s so kind of you, I can’t wait to see what you send!

  6. Ben says:

    hm, I can’t find your email address here, mine is on my About page so send me an email and I’ll reply with the info!

Share your thoughts