Ths was nearly called the Greenwich Project. A while back, my husband sold his handmade children's books on Greenwich market. He made friends with a fellow stall holder, a lady in her 70's. She told him a story about when she was a child in Nigeria. Her family couldn't afford to buy books, but she had a thirst for reading. Such a thirst that she crept into her local gun-patroled dump yard where books were burnt. She and her friends would wait for a fresh delivery, scramble under the barbed wire fence, grab what they could and run for it, saving the books from the fire and risking their lives to read a book. Chatting to my husband, she showed off a scar on her leg which she got by running away from an armed guard and his dog. She caught her leg on the barbed wire as she scrambled to freedom with her precious book.
Fast forward a few years, I'm chatting over a cup of tea, my friend Michelle commented that schools in New Orleans, post Katrina, were still struggling to fill their libraries with books. A pal of mine is a school librarian in New Orleans, so we had a chat to see what we could do.
I called a publisher and asked if they would donate some books that they couldn’t sell and were going to destroy. I got a very angry response telling me in no uncertain terms that they’d rather destroy the books than give them away. He said he had a 'visceral dislike' reaction to the idea.
So, I thought I’d ask some author friends how they felt about this. No way would I want to hinder an artist by trying to source their work for free. Every single one said that if the book hadn’t sold, they’d rather it be given to someone who would read and appreciate it, than be destroyed.
Months later, clearing out our attic one day, we found a stack of books gathering dust. So we took them to the local children’s hospital. That’s when I realised that I don’t need Mr. Angry Publisher’s help at all. There is no reason why I can’t try and find people who have bought books, that they now don’t want, that that my librarian friend needs. All I have to do is find them and ask them to send the books to the library.
I believe that this recycling of books can happen just about everywhere. So I’m encouraging people to set up their own book donation centres, collect those unwanted books and take them to the nearest school, hospital or old folks home. Wherever or whomever you feel needs, or wants the books.
It’s simply people giving up a little time and people giving away their unwanted books, to people who want them, for free.
Why not get involved?
In the meantime, I’ll carry on trying to help my school librarian pal in New Orleans.