A graveyard of reading.

th-2I went dumpster wading again today at the recycling center. In the mixed paper bin I spied half a dozen like-new comic books sitting atop magazines and flattened cereal boxes.

Although melting snow was dripping down from the top of the bin, these books were dry and clean. Of course I took them, and gave them to my nephew.

He doesn’t care where I got them. In fact, he’s still stoked about the 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle I found earlier this week in the same bin.

Guess where I’m doing my Christmas shopping? (Kidding! Maybe.)

Whenever I go to the recycling center I’m on the lookout for My Coke Rewards codes. But the mixed paper bin also regularly yields magazines and books. I’d never seen a puzzle before now. In fact, there were three jigsaws but two had “pieces missing” written on their lids.  Those I left behind to be pulped.

My biggest find ever happened a few weeks back: an encyclopedia-like book called “The Bush Pilots.” People still use the phrase “Bush pilot” in casual conversation here, so I couldn’t resist pulling it out. Bound in blue leatherette, it was part of a Time-Life series called “The Epic of Flight.”

I showed it to DF, whose eyes lit up. As a kid in Bush Alaska, he knew his planes, and even his pilots: When a plane took off from or landed in the village, he and the other children knew who was flying it. Sometimes DF’s family entertained themselves by listening to the aviators’ radio chatter. (You had to make your own fun in those days.)

“There’s more books in there,” I said.

“Let’s get ’em,” he replied.

Reading material, recycled

We pulled out as many as we could see – titles like “The First Aviators,” “Women Aloft” and “The Giant Airships.” Later we found we’d gotten 16 of the 23 volumes in the set. They’d been dropped in along with a bunch of other books, but we couldn’t rescue everything.

I did grab one other title with an Alaskan theme, and we discovered an inscription inside the cover. Intrigued, DF did an online search for the guy and found he’d died some months ago. He’d led quite an interesting life, according to the obituary. It made me sad to think of his library being tossed into the recycling bin.

Perhaps some of his books were kept by family members or friends, or at least sold in an estate sale. I suppose I should also be glad that the castoffs were at least recycled, vs. being tossed in a landfill.

thStill, I can’t help feeling glum at the sight of books in a dumpster. When I was a kid I would have killed for the chance to get at so many titles. Although our parents sometimes took us to the library and the Bookmobile came through our rural area every other week in the summer, I was always hungry for reading material. I probably would have crawled into that mixed paper bin and read my way to the bottom.

Given the popularity of e-readers, books are probably going the way of the dodo. Eventually I’ll probably give in and download more reading material. As I grow older I’ll likely appreciate the ability to change the size of the type.

But I expect I’ll miss real books. The way they smell. The way they feel in my hands. The whisper of the pages as I move forward through the story. No wonder I felt sad looking into that graveyard of reading. Someone once loved those volumes. No one ever will again.

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  1. A friend just posted a photo of a bunch of books she dumpster dived today. I need to ask her what she does with them.

    My city has been sprouting lots of Little Free Libraries, and there are some other book exchange/gift shelves around, but even with those sometimes the person who takes care of them has to weed out books that are clearly not moving.

  2. I am sad when I see the demise of some books. I donated some the women’s shelter, adult and children’s books, nothing risque. They have a rummage sale every Friday. What did not sell that day went straight into the dumpster.

    My Thrift Bread Store has a basket of free books. They are all romance, but I might take some books there to offer.

    I hope my books do not end up in a dumpster.

    Since I learned to read, I have been a voracious reader.

  3. What comic books were they? You may have been able to earn valuable mother-in-law points. (Actually, he mainly prefers the bound collections, thank goodness. Easier to store and keep in good condition.)

  4. There is a Lutheran elementary school right down my alley on the corner. They throw old books into the black garbage cans, I rescue them whenever I see them. Mint condtion, texts as well as workbooks.

    • Donna Freedman

      Ever had any luck selling them through one of those online booksellers? Homeschoolers might want them….
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. Where I live the Children’s hospital runs a book sale in a mall. Twenty years ago they would have thousands of books, tons of volunteers and run for two weeks. They run now, at leat once a year (sometimes twice) but only a four day weekend. I think most of their long time volunteers have died.

    Other organizations also have minny “book sale” most recently our Humane Society.

    I take all manner of books/magazines that are discarded from our school and donate them to the center for individuals with developmental disabilities in our city. They run a “book nook” near the cafeteria and the funds go towards extras for the residents.

    An amazing woman in my city spent time in Ghana (West Africa) when her 4 children were small. She would read aloud to her children outside and all the neighbour children would come to hear. When she returned to Canada she started a non profit out of her garage sending containers full of books back to Ghana. She has established a lending library system in Ghana.

    • William Kamkwamba, the “boy who harnessed the wind”, taught himself electrical wiring & got the idea to build a generator windmill, from a donated out-of-date text at the library in his home town in Malawi.

  6. Frances

    It makes me happy to read about you saving those books. I have an ereader even but we still have shelves and shelves full of books in our home. And we visit our library and local used bookstores quite often.

  7. This is the kind of story that makes me sad. As homeschoolers, we LOVE library sales, garage sales, estate sales, etc. The very best books, history-wise, that I have ever gotten for my kids have come from the library sales we’ve attended ovber the years. History has become a politically correct subjust over the years, and we have found that the older books written about important times in American history are not only much more accurate in their actual history, they are generally better written as well. They are treasures, truly. At our local homeschool convention there is one couple who has a booth where they sell old historical children’s books, and it’s always one of the busiest booths at the conference. Great post!

  8. jestjack

    …..which is why I love the library…always have. The quiet….the smell of the books…the sound of pages turning…. a distant cough….the muffled, whispered words of a librarian offering assistance. DD2 shares my love of the Library as she spends a lot of time at her college’s library studying….working on papers…research…I’m jealous.

  9. It’s a mystery to me why anyone would throw out a book. I buy them used constantly and when I’m through I donate the appropriate books to a senior living place and the rest to a thrift store so they can make some money.

    With any luck they can be sold over and over again forever.

  10. Pauline in Ithaca

    I have to take issue with your closing words: “Someone once loved those volumes. No one ever will again.” Obviously your DF will, and who knows after that! There are a lot of us who still love REAL books and always will. The e-readers have their uses, but it’s just not the same.

    • Donna Freedman

      I was referring to the books left in the dumpster, not to the ones we took out.

  11. Catseye

    I donate all of my unwanted books to the main library for their quarterly book sales. It would never occur to me to throw a book into a recycling dumpster. Magazines, yes, but books?!? Anyway, Donna, glad to hear that you and DF rescued those books.

  12. lostAnnfound

    I buy a books from our library (they’re either donated by other patrons or “withdrawn” from the library’s shelves). When I’m done with them I send out an email to see if any of my friends are interested in what I have. If not, I donate them back to the library for someone else to buy & support our library!

  13. I have a Kindle, which I LOVE, but it has definitely changed my view of my real book collection (which I also LOVE). I used to be one of those people who would keep books in mint condition and try to not even break the spine on paperbacks. Now, I realize that you can have that with e-books, but only real books allow you to easily interact with the text through notes in the margin and inscriptions. So, I’m trying to write more in my physical books, and I’m also trying to only own physical books that I really care about and want to keep forever. I donate, freecycle, and paperbackswap the rest.

  14. kerry borst

    I can agree with most of the previous comments, but felt compelled to add my thoughts anyway. I retired after 23 yrs in a public library, and I love print materials. My children got me a Nook for Christmas last year, and I also love that. I believe there is a place for both. Libraries cannot always accept all donations. If there is (even a slight) mold, insect infestation, or odor, among other problems those items should not be on the shelves. Sometimes, an item has outlived it’s usefulness. As you said, recycling is better that landfills.

    • Donna Freedman

      Points taken. When DF tried to give his dad’s books away the library could take only a few. The library here in Anchorage has a book sale a couple of times a year, and the rest of the time maintains a “free books” shelf. I’ve taken a few myself.
      Better pulped than buried, I guess.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  15. I am 30 and I still refuse to get one of those e-readers. I just cannot bring myself to it. I am a book lover to my core and love the smell, feel, ect… of books so I chose “real” books whenever I can even if it means a library trip once a month to get my fix. 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      I need to turn those pages…and, sometimes, to refer back a couple if something seems not quite right. (“Wait…Didn’t she leave the keys in the ignition for a fast getaway? Then how is she using the car key to try and remove screws from the hinges of the door?”)

      • I do the same thing. Paper books seem easier in finding those sorts of things faster. 🙂


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