My Volunteer Journal: Episode 33 – Hoarding Books…I mean…Helping the Venice Library with their Book Sale

85909738Books are something sacred to me. Whether bad or good they hold a record of our culture and history. For me, personally, they were always a means of escape and entertainment. My little book obsession is precisely why it was not a good idea for me to sign up to volunteer for the last shift of the Venice Library Book Sale.

When I arrived to start my shift at 3 pm people were making their final selections. I found the volunteer coordinator, Carol, and she put me to work stacking and organizing the remaining books so that they could either be stored for the next sale or “trashed.” She really shouldn’t have used that term around me. Immediately, I panicked. Thousands of books remained and about half were to be “trashed.” She must have seen the distressed look on my face, so she told me to take whatever I wanted from the throw away piles.

I don’t shop, don’t understand the impulse, and find no pleasure in the activity what so ever except when I’m at a bookstore. Only when surrounded by shelf after shelf of lovely tomes do I understand the impulse to take home something that isn't a necessity. My book love combined with my need to “save the books” led to a very ugly situation. As I stacked, pushed and pulled heavy boxes around the library I kept finding books I needed. Oh! A worn out copy of Chocolat, I’ve seen the movie, but never read it. It’s coming home with me. A compilation of Keats, I’m not a fan, but I haven’t read all his poetry. I will need this book as well. 1001 Ways to Market Your Book – I want to write a book. I’m keeping that too.

After an hour I had an embarrassingly large pile of free books. I asked the librarian again if she didn’t mind me taking these books so they weren’t thrown away. She laughed, “We’re not throwing them away! They’ll sit in the lobby, in boxes, for the library patrons to take if they want.” Now I felt sheepish. The damage was done though; I had created a pile of books, which were now precious to me so they were coming home.

An hour later, I dragged my box full of worn out paperbacks into my tiny tiny tiny apartment. My partner in crime, Matt, stared in horror. “You don’t need them. You have piles of books already! We don’t have shelf space,” he protested as I lovingly organized my new books and stroked the bindings.

I’ve never pictured myself in a grand home or even desired to have one, however, I have lusted after my share of large libraries. When I traveled through the great castles of Europe in college I carefully plodded through the houses searching, sometimes in vain, for the massive libraries. When I saw the Hearst Castle library here in California I almost had a coronary – such beautiful first editions! *Sigh* My perfect home library, the one that lives in my mind, is two stories tall, but the second story is short with a very narrow antique wood balcony running around it. A tall rolling ladder can be pushed along the bottom so you can reach books high up. There’s a fireplace on one wall that I never light, except during a thunderstorm. The library is also my office, and has a large window staring out across a fantastic green view, which my small wooden antique desk faces. I always let one of my cats in the library to work with me and keep me company.  Sometimes when I have guests over to discuss business I greet them from the second floor balcony, book in one hand, while the other hand pushes my glasses back up my nose. Very dramatic. I don't know how I'm going to reconcile the large library with the tiny cottage I envision living in, but there has got to be a way.

The reality of my book hoarding and collection, in aforementioned tiny apartment, cannot be called a library. I have a few bookshelves – all of them overflowing. Bookshelves just don’t look as majestic when you have books lying lengthwise across the top. My old books (100+ years old - the only thing I collect) and specially signed books are kept in shoeboxes in the closet. In case of a fire my priorities go like this – all humans and cats, computer, closet books, regular books, and family pictures (well damn it they are mostly all copies anyway).

As I went through my new used books trying to find space to cram them into my shelves I began to wonder what I had been thinking. Yes, the anthology of American Literature might come in handy at some point, but the cookbook “Made with Love” consisted of recipes made with Velveeta Cheese and Ritz Crackers -Yuck. Did I really need a full collection of "The Great Orators" from 1916?  And what about this random collection of Honore de Balzac's work?  Clearly his name is fabulous, but am I ever going to read it?

Although I had fun at the library book sale and it was an incredibly short and easy way to volunteer it is probably best that I stay away from any function with the words "Book" and "Sale" in the title. At least until I have my two story library. If your interested in helping at your local library's book sale just give them a call.  Proceeds from sales generally go back to the library to help offset operation costs.

P.S. I will probably be helping at the Venice Book Sale in December - hoarding be damned!