We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking.


On a recent weekday afternoon, Bruce Albright pulls into the parking lot of Wonder Book, he opens the trunk of his Camry and pulls out two boxes of old books. “It hurts. Some of them I have read many times,” he says.

Albright, 70, has been doing this for six months, checking out 750 books at her local library and at this Frederick, Md., store. Rub: More than 1,700 surviving volumes are housed in the home of a retired state attorney nearby, whose collection has been lovingly assembled for half a century.

But Albright is at work. He says, “I cleaned my parents’ house. “I don’t want to do to my children what my parents did to me.”

He is not alone. Books are important to their owners. Their value, feelings and money, is less for anyone.

Humorist and social critic Fran Lebowitz has 12,000 books, mostly fiction, stored in 19th-century wooden cases with glass doors. in his New York apartment. “According to the Constitution, I cannot throw away the book. For me, it’s like seeing a child thrown in a can,” he says. “I am greedy for printing. I love books in every way. I love them more than most people.” If there’s a book he doesn’t like, Lebowitz, 72, will spend months deciding who to give it to.

“I continued to collect books. My life was overflowing with books. I would have to live to be 150 to read these books again,” says Martha Frankel, author and director of the Woodstock Bookfest. He collected 3,600 – and it was only in the office that he closed in 2018 – “but the thought of removing these books annoyed me.”

America is full of old books, stacked Ikea Billy cases, Jengaing atop floors, Babeling bedside tables. In the months of confinement, book lovers face these spines with the many seasonal opportunities of spring cleaning. They adore these books, irrationally, endlessly, but know that, in the end, if they don’t choose what to keep, it will be left to others to throw away randomly.

So, despite the resistance, sadness, communication, frustration and even disgust, the Great Deaccession began.

“This is the most flooded market I’ve ever seen,” says veteran Vancouver, Wash., trader KolShaver, a sentiment echoed by traders across the country. For dealers who survived the pandemic, “the used book business has never been healthier,” says Wonder Book owner Chuck Roberts, a 42-year veteran of the retail business, walking through his three-acre warehouse, a veritable biblio wonderland, filled with volumes from publisher’s overstock to centuries ago bound in leather.

“We take everything and most that no one else will take,” Roberts says, which is how his business has accumulated a record of 6 million, with 300,000 new used books arriving every month. Wonder Book does “nose-to-tail bookselling,” meaning that a home or use is found for each item in one way or another through multiple websites (national and international), three brick-and-mortar stores, and school and gift shops. Wonder Book’s damaged items on life support are pulled to produce 100,000 pounds a month on recycled paper.

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Despite the advent of digital and eBooks, hard covers and paperbacks continue to flood the market for readers who prefer the look and feel of physical books, the weight in their hands, the joy of turning the page. Three-quarters of book sales revenue last year came from hardcover and paperback sales, according to the Association of American Publishers. The proliferation of self-publishing and publishing has allowed more people to call themselves “author,” with a juggernaut of titles published each year in print, reaching 395,000 in 2021, an increase of 15 percent in 10 years, according to Bowker, which provides ISBN. numbers and bar codes for books.

What to do with old books is a problem that collectors, regardless of age, eventually face – or leave to heirs who, of course, do not want their abundance. Old volumes are a challenge for older Americans to downsize or face death, with their reading lives coming to an end. It’s a problem that Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda writes about extensively. They have a backbone wherever the collector walks. They make sense when collectors want to sell their houses: antiques, a problem of any description.

All the books in my 300 boxes caused joy. The closure made me rethink why I kept them.

Books provide a room, the novelist Anthony Powell observed, but they certainly fill the house. Apart from family Bibles, as well as rare and unique volumes, books rarely stay in a family for generations such as pictures, china or cloth. Roberts says: “Eventually, they will be sold.”

In 2004, Don Dales had a new idea to turn small Hobart, NY, into a biblical destination, inspired by Hay-on-Wye in Wales. “All the shops were empty. The village was completely dead. The dust was rolling on the highway,” he says. Today, there are eight used-book emporiums in the Catskills town of less than 500 residents.

Book lovers are known to have semi-hoardish and anthropomorphic tendencies. They keep most books for a long time, despite dust, dirt, mold, cracked spines, torn dust jackets, twisted pages, coffee stains and the horrible fact that many will never read again. Age does not always enrich a book.

“No one likes to throw away a book. Nobody likes to see it go in the bin,” says Michael Powell of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore.” Owners never want to see their stubborn children uprooted. Bibliocide seems to be very painful in this difficult time of banned books. Hence, the proliferation of Little Free Libraries everywhere, and donations to the public for resale, which enable staff to purchase new books.

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“We don’t want them to die. I love them. They’re a part of me,” says author and Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, 77. She has books in nearly every room of her Virginia home, long ago exhausting shelf space.

“Books represent a significant investment of time and effort in our lives,” Powell says. “They are more like friends than anything. You have had many conversations with the book. You want to remember the event. Echoes of what you read.”

Topher Lundell, manager of Second Story Books in DC, admits that “a lot of the books I have are not readable by me. In some ways, books symbolize how we want to feel about ourselves. They are comforting. I have read these books. These things are successful. “

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Most people don’t know how many books they have. Maybe, they don’t want to know. Roberts regularly calls home owners saying they have 2,000 books only to get a quarter of them.

If different. Drexel University law professor Clare Coleman thought she had 1,300 books until her librarian reminded her she had twice as many, because her Billy shelves were two stacks deep. Lebowitz knows the exact number of his collection because, whenever he travels, he hires experienced bookkeepers to count his holdings. The hunt for each apartment, and the importance of covering his real estate budget, depends entirely on whether it is large enough to hold his collection. In a way, Lebowitz’s books are his.

Owners can get relief from throwing away old books. Not Coleman, 60, whose latest initiative has led him to donate two-thirds of his books to Goodwill in Swarthmore, Pa. “I deeply regret it. Those books were like a document of my life,” he says. “Having those books around me throughout my adult life was a real source of joy.”

With the exception of rare and veteran collectors, few owners realize the financial value of their holdings. Always, they appreciate them.

Does the encyclopedia have good thumbs? It’s useless. Books? It has been updated 10 times, possibly digitized. “Books that are too expensive are useless,” says book scout and real estate buyer Larry Bardecki, especially coffee table rugs. Best-selling hardcovers from 10 years, 50 years or 100 years ago? The possibilities of false pulp fiction. “Everyone who wants one already has one,” says Bardecki, who makes as many as three house calls a day, usually for the Wonder Book. “I’m looking for books that not everyone has.”

Writers who are valued by one generation are not valued by the next. “Everybody had a volume of Tennyson in the 1870s,” Roberts says. “Nobody reads Zane Grey.” Don’t get him started on Dan Brown’s 2003 “The Da Vinci Code.” Roberts’s Books by the Foot business sells them packaged as decorations and sold by color, starting at $10 a foot. At 10 to 12 books per book, each volume is worth a dollar or less. Of the design, Lebowitz says, “the main thing is that these people know enough to look like they’re reading them.”

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These unread books have a long shelf life – like decorations

The taste of writing affects fashion like pant silhouette. “David Foster Wallace was very popular and the prices went up for a while. We couldn’t keep copies in the store,” says Zachary Greene, who is also a manager at Second Story Books. “In the last few years, demand has increased.”

But “The Great Gatsby” is timeless, just like any classic that is always studied. Books by authors who are not yet great sell to many, because there are few copies. Used paperbacks are often sold for more than one hardcover of the same title. They are light, easy to travel. They are preferred by younger buyers, sellers say, who practice reading habits by getting used books. At the Wonder Book warehouse, a list is sent to twelve witches to find out what is needed: Philip K. Dick, HP Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Dr. Seuss.

By selling the buildings, the heirs may not want the books, but they don’t want them to end up in the trash, either, the sellers say. “Nhai: ‘Please do something with them. We want to find them a new home,’” Greene says. “That’s more important than getting rid of them.”

Frankel, 78, director of the Woodstock Bookfest, is at winning work in his collection. He is currently dealing with books at home, which he estimates to be about 800 – giving away three boxes a month. “I no longer need all these books to feel calm and able to read,” says Frankel. “But if you walked into my house right now, you wouldn’t believe it’s true.” A young friend told him that “books and papers will kill your generation.” He says his friend may be right.

Lebowitz, who lives alone, has run out of room in her backpack. Two hundred books were piled on the tables, not the floor, the thought left him puzzled. He worries about the fire: “When I look in my apartment, I see, ‘Fran, you live in the woods.'” Lebowitz made arrangements for his collection, “only because I had to write a will,” he says, explaining. so that three friends in their 30s, all of them love books. And if they don’t like both? “I’m not that worried about what will happen when I die.”

Lebowitz makes no excuses. He says: “There are millions of books in the world. Twelve thousand is nothing. It’s like having a pound of salt from the sea.” So he will hold on to each of them.


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