I have been looking for ways to get involved with the local literary community since I moved to Minnesota, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to volunteer yesterday for the Rain Taxi-sponsored Twin Cities Book Festival. Gathered together, in a spacious building at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, were the city’s finest authors, readers, publishers, and wordsmiths. The building was bursting at the seams with creativity, inspiration, and a shared love for the written word. I met a woman who wrote a satirical book about all the horrible bosses she’s had, complete with illustrations. I met a group of goofy young men who were eager with pride to talk about their collections of poetry books. I spoke with an illustrator and poetess, who, in collaboration with her book designer, created what I mistook to be a letterpress project. From these women I learned that exquisite paper and quality ink can create a small impression in the paper, thereby giving the conventionally printed work the illusion of having been set in type. It was gorgeous.
As a volunteer, I had the pleasure of selling used books to eager buyers of all ages. And, as an advocate for what sometimes feels like a dying romance, it gave me great pleasure to watch a shy 12-year old girl buy a withered, cloth-bound anthology of American literature; a man with a thick accent who kept showing up in line with a newly uncovered book about mastering the English language; a cheerful young woman who could not believe that her favorite book was only a dollar; that thrilling moment when buyers realized that they could pay with a credit card — Aha! No longer are they limited by their quickly dwindling wad of cash. More books!
I could relate to each and every one of them. Used books are so special — so important. Beyond the written content, they bear a physical story — notes in the margins, turned-down page corners, coffee stains, and broken spines. They were loved before. They satisfied someone’s needs — brought tears to their eyes, anger to their hearts. Perhaps they encouraged change. And yet, this history is somehow obscured. It exists only as a faint tear smudge on the yellowing pages, or a slightly crumpled (and then smoothed) final page. The book bears the marks of meaningful response. When I purchase a used book, I hope to be moved in the same way that I imagine the previous reader was. I want to feel an emotional, change-driven response. And yet, I am also certain that our gleanings will differ. I know that what I need from the book is probably different from what they needed. Different words will stand out to me; different lessons will make themselves evident. And this is what makes the whole things so stunning. Buying a used book is like buying an important piece of someone else’s history, but then having it tailored to your own needs. It should be cherished and honored. It is invaluable!
This was so fun to witness at the festival. With each book I sold, I knew that good things were coming. I imagined that change was on the horizon for these happy readers. I was so grateful to be a minute fragment of such a cool process.
I should also mention, the volunteers were given so many goodies! I came home with a tote bag filled to the brim with free books, t-shirts, and even a beanie (see the image above)! I was astounded by the generosity and kindness of those who organized the event, and cannot wait to offer my services again next year!
P.S. For more of my thoughts on why literature is so valuable, check out this post: Why Literature?