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Five ways to approach downsizing a book collection

Five ways to approach downsizing a book collection

When Book Driver started its Chicago book donation program, it was something of an afterthought. While we knew there were a lot of used books available in the market, like most people, we didn’t give it much thought beyond that. People didn’t know what to do with the books, so they just gave them to us. 

That was until we started working with people and realized that it could become quite an emotional journey for book lovers to pick and choose which books to keep and which to let go. 

Here are the five ways we advise people to approach this task. 

  1. Plan to make three passes through your collection. This is based on working with over 1000 people and organizations. This will give you time to remove books you’re sure about while creating mental room for other books you’re not.
  2. Think about the space certain books take up. Hardcovers and coffee table books take up more room than paperbacks so being choosy with bigger books might mean removing fewer books from your collection overall if that is your goal. 
  3. Books degrade in storage both in terms of physical condition and intellectual value. We can not overstate this. This makes it harder to get rid of them in the long-run.
  4. Be open to who wants them, not where you think they should go. This will help the maximum amount of books avoid a landfill. By this I mean that the books might be used by a myriad of organizations or individuals. In our experience most books will find a new owner but it’s probably not going to be your children, your local library or your former graduate school. 
  5. Some may have value but expect pennies on the dollar. Powell’s, Half Price Books, Myopic and Ravenswood Books are just a few places in the city and suburbs that offer cash and/or credit for your books. And as you will probably buy more books down the line, a little credit at these places never hurt anyone.

Books are special. Know that you are not alone if it ends up being more difficult than you thought to give them up. That’s been surprising to us, and heartening. While we will toss old linens, clothes, furniture or paper products quite easily, there is something about books that people find hard to just throw away.

Of course if you need help we offer a free pickup of books (and other media related items like vinyl, DVDs and games).  Check out our Chicago page.  

Burning books conjures up ideas of Orwellian thought policing. Also, books are paper.

Bookseller: “Honestly some of these will end up in the trash.”

People react with dismay. How sad, right?

But booksellers know that many books are thrown out every day, from libraries and schools especially, and that donated books are often in bad enough shape to be targeted for recycling.

So why does everyone keep giving me funny looks when I’m just tryin’ ta burn some old books?

“This has nothing to do with censorship!”—always my point numero uno.

Big books burn like logs.

Books are sacred to book lovers, but to booksellers, not so much. Matt is fond of pointing out you can be a better seller if you have no preconceived notions of a book’s worth.

You find out pretty soon what a book’s worth is in the market. And the sheer amount of crap you see—now I’m talking trendy pop culture and political books, mainly—quickly lowers the bar for how bad off that copy of Eat, Pray, Love has to be for it to burn.

The typical fodder is old but not too old, disintegrating, smelly dictionaries, cookbooks, children’s board books, books stored in damp garages, and digests, books of the year.

We’re trying to connect with other book orgs who might want this stuff. The trick is getting books to those who want them from those who have too many! (As locally as possible.)

But here’s a secret: everyone likes it better when you burn books they hated in school. There’s a gut reaction to crappy English grammar schoolbooks, for example, not old enough to be rare, watching it burn on the fire with evil glee.

Matt: “Ivanhoe. Company policy to burn it every time we get it. Had to read it. Really horrible.”

It’s sort of a fun party game in which often, one or more books are rescued from the fire and read a little bit of, at least. One person took a book on music ensembles before I could pitch it in the fire.

“It burns like logs,” my friend said. It was true, the big hardcover, an encyclopedia maybe, would burn steady for 30 minutes. The pages made a heavy fan like cinder pile which when you spread it revealed pages you could read as they burned.

But books are sacred! Some books will always be bought and sold, kept in libraries, kept cherished on bookshelves. I keep about 5 out of every big donation for my own library.

But lets not pretend that’s the fate of all books.

Books are sacred. But books are also paper.

Reasons we support burning the occasional book.

1. past due condition

2. trendiness / overprinted

3. novelty-stupidity / not a proven seller over time

If a book has two or more of the above features, it’s burnable. For e.g. a crappy marked up copy of Twilight. That hits all three.

4. content issues

This is emphatically NOT about burning books whose ideas we don’t like. That would be infantile, authoritative jackbooting. The main reason we support limited burning of paper materials including books (if you’re having a fire anyway, you know) is the fact that the millions of books that are tossed out each week are not recycled.

Party Down

Party Down: Navigating the Summer Social Scene Together

By Emily Johnson

A friend is in a six-month burgeoning relationship. She’s very independent, down-to-earth, and dating a sweet guy. He wants to spend all his time with her. For her part she’s trying to establish some boundaries.

They were going to a party one night and she was a bit dreading it. “I want to be free to have a good time, and not have to worry about him,” she continued. “I like to be able to do my own thing,” she said, “you know?”

“But sometimes I just get defensive and mean,” she said and then laughed. “It makes him keener, if anything!”

Separate Lives

I remembered instantly what it was like to negotiate a party with my ex, and finding it an unexpected minefield. “Festivals are for old friends and new lovers,” someone told me at a festival after he’d lost me (on purpose).

Now, listening to my friend on the other side of this equation I understood better my ex’s need to exert independence, even though he was being a jerk, and my counterproductive neediness in response.

As I relax through the long weekend of Memorial Day I’m happy to be going into summer sans partner.

Read more in the July 2016 issue of Industry Magazine.

Sticking Together

I was bartending at an after party for a play, and one of the actors was very young, obviously fresh to the scene, and excited. A few times he came over to shyly ask for wine. He checked in with his girlfriend, was very attentive, even as he had attention from all corners.

As the crowd thinned and the wine bottles emptied, he came over once more for a last cup. The girlfriend stopped him, saying, “Do you really wanna do that?”

He hung his head a bit, and she backed off right away. “Well it’s your night you do what you want.”

Couples, man.

I watched idly this little scene, he was overacting on stage but very real right now.

Off to the side the main actor, a studly Irish gent of middle age, stood with an older woman,  a member of the board. She’s impeccably turned out–I want her patent leather shoes–and she takes a gentle but firm hold of his arm as she leans in to whisper to him.

All 6’2 of him laughs and leans in and out. This one was better on stage, maybe too good off.

The house managers, suddenly off duty, invited me to scour the BBQ leftovers and to give them a beer. We chatted and bided our time til the hall was empty, or empty enough to gently nudge the remainders.





Road Rules: Traveling over the holidays

My latest for Industry’s Nov/Dec issue. Road Rules: Or, how to holiday travel together without driving each other crazy.

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It’s the time of year when opportunities to travel together come up for both new and more seasoned couples. From Thanksgiving through December, Hannukkah, Ramadan, and Christmas come in fast succession. The whole yawning month of frenzied activity ramps up as the year comes to a close. For new couples this can be a trial by fire, as it can involve not just travel (a natural stressor for some) but also possibly meeting family, seeing childhood homes and friends, exes, etc. Here are a few things to think about when making your first trip as a couple.

Keep reading on Industry’s website here.

I had some real burnout this year writing about relationships, and, let’s be honest, even being involved in relationships. Is it a relief, a comfort, that we feel so perpetually renewed by the feeling of love, that we open our hearts again and again, that we build someone up, that we’re completely fascinated and want everything? I don’t know. I thought it was about time I just grew up and got over my romantic notions and got with reality. Relationships will disappoint you if you let them remain part of some watery province of melodrama. This year’s writing largely reflects my attempts to be more hard-nosed about it, but I can’t pretend I didn’t cross over into cynicism and bitterness occasionally. The more reality you let in, though, the more of a case is made for it, and the less it makes sense to cherry-pick experiences, feelings, people, moods. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what (or who) you do, but how you do it, how you respond.

See you in the new year, and thanks for everyone’s support. In 2014, I bought a house, started to feel truly autonomous and savvy, then got really busy, and now I’m back. I’m looking forward to much more content going up here, meaning more yoga, more publishing, and in general, more quirky, serious fun in 2015.

Happy holidays!

Inside Game of Thrones

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Yes I know everyone’s obsessed with Breaking Bad right now, what can I say? Print waits for no show. In my latest article for Industry, I look at the themes of Game of Thrones, which offers a case study of personal politics and the rules of cause and effect, if we are paying attention. HBO shows do not kowtow to our hero myths, and one could argue that they’ve influenced mainstream entertainment away from the old watered down, picture-postcard universe of blockbuster fantasy (we won’t talk about Sex and the City right now). That’s why we love them (Sopranos, Enlightened, GoT) and why they are better than most TV, even most really good TV.  Plus, GoT has a lot of awesome female characters (looking at you, Breaking Bad, but I love you anyway!).

It is always interesting to think of why a certain trend happens at a certain time. And as little as I want to overstretch some tenuous pop cultural connection, it does seem strange that we are lapping up HBO’s Game of Thrones series’ political intrigue, lax morality, and wanton disregard for others’ personal freedom with an almost sociopathic appetite.

Read more here.

What Man Wants

“Pleasure, success, and duty are never man’s ultimate goals; at best they are means which we assume will take us in the direction of what we really want. What we really want are things which lie on a deeper level. First, we want being. . . , Second, we want to know, to be aware. . . , The third thing men seek is joy. . . Mention any good and man can always imagine a bit more of it and in doing so wish for that more. Medical science has doubled man’s life expectancy, but is man today more ready to die once that expectancy is reached? To state the full truth, then, we must say that what man would really like is infinite being, infinite knowledge, and infinite joy. Disregarding for the moment what he might have to settle for, these are what he would really like. To gather them together in a single word, what man really wants is liberation—complete release from the countless limitations that press so closely upon his present existence.”
The Religions of Man
– Huston Smith

What Are We Telling Ourselves Through Popular Love Songs?

My latest column for Industry Nov/Dec 2010

Tuning Out: Can love songs actually teach us something of value about that elusive state, or should we be making our own music?

When the relationship becomes a normal part of life, it becomes just another proof that outer circumstances do not really determine individual happiness. Most things disappear into the background, like a note I pin up to remind myself something, and which eventually fades into the wallpaper, beyond notice.

Life itself seems to teach that love is in so many ways more colorful and complex, but also harder and more scary, than most songs ever give testimony to. It takes guts to let down your guard and care for another, put yourself in the hands of another. There’s no guarantee you’ll be handled with care.

It takes a lot of days of negotiation, bad days as well as good, and of putting in the time to learn someone’s habits, of dealing with their ghosts, and not becoming haunted yourself,
to get to a few moments of Hollywood love. Transcendant, real, sometimes sad, heartbreaking moments of deep intimacy. But wait, am I just shoring up the mythology? It’s hard to talk about love without adding to the mystery.

Ryuichi Sakamoto at the Vic

I went to see Ryuichi in Chicago recently and wrote a review for Radio Free Chicago. His unobtrusive yet challenging melodic experiments sat alongside the more accessible, climactic soundtrack themes he has composed over the years. The highlights: zen-like glacial melt; the chunky chords and ballast of The Last Emperor; gentle loops.