Books for free

IMG_20150122_092114463_HDRI love browsing through used books. Yesterday Betsy and I visited a special place where all the books are free, and we took home 15 of them. Betsy called it a “cheap date.”

The “book shed” is part of Amherst’s Recycling Center. It’s a place where people can drop off books they no longer want and pick up books they might like to read. It’s set up like a small bookstore, with separate shelves for classics, mysteries, romance, parenting, biography, religion, children, general fiction, etc.

The freezing temperatures of the open-air shed are not for everybody, but we love books and we love getting them for free. A large percentage of the books on our shelves came from the book shed, and even if we don’t read all of them, we like having them around. Used books make a congenial form of wallpaper.

Sometimes a book will sit on our shelf for years before getting a reading. I am currently enjoying the very funny “White House Mess” by Christopher Buckley, which I picked up at the book shed several years ago.

In addition to bringing books to the shed yesterday, we brought several items to the adjacent “Take It Or Leave It” area: a jigsaw puzzle, two pairs of shoes, two egg cartons, a scrapbook and toys. I took home a mint copy of “The Help” (I loved the movie), “Talk to the Hand” (by Lynne Truss of “Eats Shoots and Leaves” fame), “A Short History of the Civil War,” and a funny novel by Sarah Bird, author of a book I enjoyed a few years ago.

Betsy picked up several mysteries as well as a second dictionary (for the bedroom, she said), “Cook It Quick,” and a book by the 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich.

Since Amherst is a college town, there are many volumes in the book shed that I imagine were once assigned by professors, such as the Norton anthology of English literature, “The Gulag Archipelago,”  and “The Education of Henry Adams.” Many books are of such narrow interest that you wonder who first bought them and why, and who will be their next owners: “Industrialization in Bosnia-Herzogovina 1878-1918” and “Losing It” by Valerie Bertinelli. And let’s not forget “Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies.”

Some books that people bring to the shed don’t make it onto the shelves but are put in a bin for disposal, because they are damaged or because a book shed volunteer thought there’s no way anyone will want them. I saw “The Essential Erasmus” and “Early Christian Fathers” in the bin.

Driving home with our treasures, we reflected on the simple pleasures of acquiring books for free and re-using what someone has discarded.

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