Stuff 3: Books, the Finale September 2, 2016

The good news first. The remaining 450 or 500 books culled from my husband’s office are gone. Second Life Books proved to be one of those small, fantasy organizations that saw a niche and filled it, inserting itself between people with too many books, charities that might want them and Amazon, which sells the best in show.

The phone number on Second Life’s website led me to Jack, who answered what seemed a personal cell and booked a free pick-up for early the following week. They were busy until then moving into a new warehouse, he said, having grown out of his house, where the business started.

IMG_2409As it happened, I never met Jack personally. Early on the day we chose, he called saying he’d been delayed by problems with their rental truck, and bumped his arrival to a time when I had a meeting. But my husband was there when Jack pulled up at the revised time—although after everything we’d been through with scrap metal dealers, we didn’t really expect him to—and chatted pleasantly as he loaded the boxes into his car.

According to what Jack told my husband, the business had been started by his son as a way to help pay for university and give back to the community. The son set the practice of giving about 70 per cent of the books to youth shelters, prisons and various other Toronto charities.

The other 30 per cent they sold online, driving periodically to Boston to deliver books to the Amazon fulfillment centre, which warehouses and ships used books to fulfill online sales orders received by secondhand book dealers. Jack said popular books sell for next to nothing, there are so many copies out there. They look for niche books, he said. These may take months to sell, but when the one person in the world who wants that particular book finds it online, she’ll pay well.

Jack told my husband that the business was in flux. At various times, he’d had home nursing and security businesses, but he’d always worked part time as a rabbi. Now he was off to the east coast to begin full time rabbinical duties at a new synagogue. We’d met him just as he was leaving.

Meanwhile, his son was in Israel, where he was spending a year as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces. After the son demobbed, Jack said, he planned to return to Toronto and resume the business. In the meantime, with both of them gone, they’d hired someone else to run it.

I pause when writing this and think, Quite the story. On the phone with me and in person with my husband: Quite the character. But when my elderly neighbour Elsie used to talk about people as characters, she didn’t mean to imply she didn’t believe their stories. Only that life was livelier when they dropped by.

In any case, the books are gone. Over the past month or two, we recycled about 750 books as responsibility as we could, hopefully in a way that means they’ll be re-read.

And with a novel coming out next spring, I’m relieved to hear how quickly publishers can respond to demand these days, printing new editions at speed, so they don’t order too many copies and later have to pulp them. According to my editor, even big-box bookstores don’t warehouse books anymore. They order fewer books more frequently, responding to the traffic they see in their stores. I have to hope, of course, they don’t order too few copies so potential readers drift away unsatisfied. But I also don’t want to add to the waste problem by being the author of too many volumes that never get read.

Meanwhile, as I cull and declutter, I’ve been thinking about the first part of the environmental mantra: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Having too much stuff is a waste of time. Too many phone calls to get rid of it, too many afternoons spent waiting for no-show junkmen, too much time lost recovering from concussions (all right, one) after an excess of books falls on my head. I’m not planning to Marie Kondo the house into minimalism, but there’s got to be a happy medium.

And now I’ve got a couple of boxes of my late mother’s stuff to wrangle, facing the more complex problem of what to do with the proposal of marriage she’s received from the bush pilot in a letter stuffed in an old photo album, along with his rakish picture. What to keep. What to toss. When it gets personal, it gets harder.