"Books are hindrances to persisting stupidity. "...  ...Spanish proverb.

Commentary of the Day - December 11, 2010: I'll Be Burning Books in My Fireplace This Winter.   Guest commentary by David Langley.

While I was growing up, my father often recited to his children the great poems of the 19th century that he had memorized in public school.  In elementary and high school, I had excellent teachers, especially English teachers.  I majored in English on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and now teach English at a local community college.  I love reading, I despise censorship, and that minister down in Florida who planned to burn the Quran is a knucklehead.  So why will I be burning half of my personal library in my fireplace this winter?  Stay tuned.

A week or two ago, I placed an advertisement in the local Pennysaver advertising a monstrous weekend book sale.  The advertisement ran during the week before the sale and on the Internet for two weeks.  I e-mailed friends, relatives, and neighbors, asking them to tell their friends, relatives, and neighbors about my sure-to-be-fabulous sale.  I added a posting on Craigslist to ensure the digital crowd knew about the sale.  After 36 hours, the posting still has not appeared.  I made stunning posters advertising the event.

On sale days, the posters appeared around the neighborhood at major intersections, giving clear directions to my house.  I left no telephone pole unadorned.  My books -- including many collectibles -- are in very good condition, and I priced my books very low so they would fly off the porch in record time.  However, by the end of Sunday evening, I had had no more than twenty visitors over two days, and sold only $100 worth of books.  No one under the age of 35 came to the sale, and most buyers were in their 50s or above.

The Pennysaver advertisement cost me $25, and poster supplies cost $5.  (While the neighborhood posters brought in about fifteen buyers, the printed advertisement brought in only five.)  The neighbor boy (and his buddy) who helped un-box and later re-box all of my wares (I am recovering from surgery) cost me nearly $30 in labor fees.  Thus, I netted only $40 from sitting on my porch for two full sale days.

Before the book sale, I had tried to sell books to multiple used and rare bookstores, but the stores took almost nothing.  I had lugged twenty boxes of books to a local sandwich shop during our a farmer’s market weekend, which generated lots of foot traffic but netted only $25 worth of books at that venue.  Then, of course, I had to lug the books back home.

My alma mater does not want my books.  A friend who is president of a college in California will take all the books, but shipping costs across the country would run me over $600.  Closer colleges and universities will take the books, but shipping to those locales could cost up to $250.  The local library's resale shop will take my books, but only the fiction, and will not pick up from my house.  Parking in front of the downtown store is non-existent.

In short, I have tried to sell my books.  I have tried to donate my books.  I have tried to give away my books.  I have advertised, used word of mouth, used traditional advertising venues, and exploited the Internet.  I cannot get rid of my books.  No one will take my books.  My books are a burden and weight upon me, my wife, and the rafters of our home.  I am desperate.

Therefore, next week, I am taking half of the unsold books to the town dump.  The rest are going in the fireplace this winter.  Please, don't judge me.

2010, David Langley.
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David Langley teaches English at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY.

The Irascible Professor comments: The IP can sympathize with David.  Fewer and fewer people are serious book readers these days, and many who are have given up the printed page for electronic book readers like the Kindle.  In fact the IP is in the midst of reading several different books on his Kindle.  These e-readers have become so ubiquitous that some people have taken to calling them "books."  But, the IP also would encourage David not to burn those books, somebody somewhere surely wants them -- particularly the collectible ones.  Even though it's going to cost $250 to ship them to the nearest college or university library that will take them, do it!  You can claim the donated books, and the shipping cost, as a charitable deduction from your income taxes.  Even if the books are valued modestly, say a dollar per book for the ordinary ones and more for the collectibles (check the Internet for current prices), you are likely to come out ahead.  Be sure to get a letter from the library that accepts the donation.


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