WHAT TO DO WITH TOO MANY BOOKS Chana Shapiro

By Chana Shapiro
AJT Contributor

A previous attempt at family altruism ended badly. Within one summer month, containers of water, then the cooler in which they were stored, and finally the bench beside the cooler, were all stolen from our front yard. But, undaunted, we still wanted to change the world.

I’d seen a couple of old newspaper kiosks on private lawns, and these receptacles held give-away books. Our family, kids and adults alike, have way too many books, and I now knew a great way to pay our bounty forward. A book distribution center of our own would be perfect for the shady spot where the cooler and bench once stood.

One of the holders I’d spotted looked like a giant birdhouse, with a shingle roof and brass clasp. Another was bright red, with steel sides and a glass door. The former was too fancy, but the latter was ideal. I had to locate an abandoned newspaper stand.

I knew where to look. My favorite thrift store had moved, but the box that held real estate fliers was still there. I kept checking to see if there were current publications in it, anticipating the time that it would be empty or at least without new contents. If it were abandoned, I rationalized that it wouldn’t be stealing to pop it into my trunk. I’d clean it, repaint it, secure the hinges on the glass door and position it on our front lawn.

Someone beat me to it. One day when I stopped by, it was gone. Either the rightful owner had reclaimed it or, as I suspected, another do-gooder had grabbed it. On to Plan B. People tried to find an abandoned stand for me, to no avail, until I got a call from my friend Viky. She’d spotted the perfect thing in a catalog, and it had an official name, Your Little Free Library. It was charming…and new. It cost $250 (plus tax). Even performing mitzvot has a price limit, so I nixed the catalog offering. I decided that being of at least average intelligence, and possessing at least average tools, I could put something together by myself. Word had spread about my plan, and people were dropping off books. Time was of the essence.

I bought a lidded wooden chest for $49 (plus tax) and planned to turn the chest on its side, so that the lid could serve as a door. I needed to locate a stand for it, arrange books inside and get started.

I went into our basement to find a base. There I bumped into a wooden box with a hinged lid. Unfortunately, it was holding beloved Care Bears I’d been instructed never to give away. But the teetering stack of books in our carport trumped my vow to our granddaughter. I stuffed the bears into a big bag. Community versus family…you be the judge. A battered kitchen stool lay nearby. I now had everything I needed. I returned the box I’d bought, used what I had and set it up. Just call me Hammerin’ Chana.

Every day I assessed the box’s contents, but much to my chagrin, my sneaky neighbors were adding books instead of taking them. Optimism was waning, and it looked like the Care Bears were going home.

Then one Shabbat afternoon I was taking my ease in the backyard. My husband came out to tell me that a young man wanted to ask me something. Young was right—the kid was six-years-old.

“Are those books to borrow or keep?” he asked.

“Keep.” “How many can I take?”

“As many as you want.” Hallelujah! I knew how Jews will feel when the Messiah finally arrives.

The child and I ran to the front yard where his mother and brother were waiting. “I can have as many as I want!” he shouted.

Before his mother could tackle him or his sibling, the boys had gathered a dozen volumes. I was ecstatic.

“You’ll have to carry all those books yourselves,” she warned.

My customer turned to me. “I’ll need a carton,” he stated.

“I don’t have a carton,” I answered. “Let’s get a couple of special bags.”

“Can we keep the bags?” “Yes, indeed,” I answered. “In fact, here are two more, just in case.” I remembered how the relieved Egyptians gave the Jews gold and silver upon their exodus.

My six-year-old catalyst did the trick, and business picked up. I did my part as the self-appointed steward of a community resource, monitoring the inventory. Last week I noticed that the Little Free Library held mostly mediocre books. This was unacceptable, and I had to take action. On to Plan C.

I drove to a house that had a Little Free Library. I checked its contents, then knocked on the door. A smiling woman appeared. “I like your polkadot car,” she laughed. Cheered by her amity, I didn’t correct her by pointing to the flowers among the polka dots. I’d found a kindred spirit, and you know how rare that is.

“We both have Little Free Libraries,” I began. “I see that you, too, have mostly mediocre books because the best books go fast, right?” She nodded. “I have a load of mediocre books in my car,” I continued. “Let’s switch because our readers might have different tastes. I’ll sweeten the pot with an Evanovitch and a Grafton.”

As we made the exchange, my partner in altruism threw in a Silva and Regan, noting, “There are flowers on your car. Cool! Come again!”

“Will do!” I agreed. Passing homeless people on the way home, I considered giving them books from my stash, but didn’t. There are still people on earth – and I often worry about this – who need food more than words. Aren’t you and I blessed to have both?

Chana Shapiro invites her readers to stop by. She’ll give you a snack and a nice bag for your books (see above.)