Saving books

Old books

“Do you have any old books?  I need a gift for my fiancee.”  That was one of the stranger requests that we’ve received at Booksavers of Virginia.  The customer told us his fiancee just liked old books and  he wasn’t sure if she liked more than the look of them.  That solved a problem for us.  I was working on a Luther Bible in German script without a title page, probably from the eighteenth century.  I had not been able to identify any distinguishing features of the Bible to permit us to list the Bible on Amazon.  The book was about three inches thick, by six wide by nine long.  The leather cover was well-preserved with five raised bands on the spine.  There was only limited foxing (brown spots) on the pages.  When the groom-to-be saw the Bible on the shelf in its warm brown leather binding with only “attractive” wear, he was sure that his fiancee would be happy with the gift.  (I don’t remember the price, but it was more than $50).

Our work

Booksavers of Virginia is part of Gift & Thrift of Virginia.  We are part of the Mennonite Central Committee network of stores that raise funds for famine and disaster relief and for development work, mostly overseas.  Most of the books, DVDs, and CDs posted to Amazon fall in the seven to fifteen dollar range.  Many have UPCs and ISBNs and are easily identified.  My work is with the items that do not have these numbers and often requires a good bit of research.  All of the items mentioned above are donated.  Those not posted on Amazon may be displayed for sale in the retail store.  Books and magazines not sold are sold to paper recyclers.

Another old book I worked on was a late nineteenth, early twentieth century Bible with local newspaper clippings of births and deaths. It had no title page and was destined for recycling.  The manager said, “Let’s put it on the [in store] silent auction.  Maybe someone will want it for the local information.”  Result:  $90.  In the electronic age I am amazed that we still receive books for which I cannot find electronic records.  Recently I process an autobiography of a pilot who had lived just down the road (north) the road in Basye, Va.  He had piloted private planes for famous personalities in film, sports and politics.  None of the standard book sources or variations of Google searches turned up a record of the book.

Other languages

Due to several retirement villages in the area, plus three higher education institutions and numerous immigrants, we receive donations of many non-English language items.  I’ve discovered you can find Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people in Farsi, that there is a language called Catalan (formerly thought a Spanish dialect) and that a 1986 book in Russian published in Azerbaijan is barely understandable by a young (Russian speaking) Ukrainian.  When a cookbook in a southeast Asian language (I thought) arrived, none of us could find anything in the book to determine its origins.  So, I took it to a Laotian restaurant to ask for help.  When the cook looked at it, she said, “Oh, yes, this is Laotian country cooking”.  (I remembered seeing French words in a menu in an upscale Laotian restaurant, so I guessed I knew what she meant.)  Then she said, “How much do you want for the book?”  I admitted I had no idea of its value.  I told her the book was to be sold for disaster and famine relief, including funding for refugee camps in Southeast Asia.  We agreed on $10 or $15, I believe.   Five years or so later, she bought another Laotian cookbook.

Valuable books

Bunyan’s Holy War in German script?  Photos from a famous nightclub in New York in the late thirties?  A compendium on the fur trade in North America?  All these and more have come through Booksavers and valued at $500 or more.  The photo album sold for $1200.  A devotional book from the eighteenth century may have been worth more.  It contained an 1742 Luther Bible, a shorter catechism, an early devotional work and a special Psalter.  These were specially bound together in leather with an intact metal clasp.  We were unable to get full value for the volume because of the difficulty of describing the different parts.  Value is not always measured in dollars.  The manager fielded a call from Texas about a cookbook.  The caller asked about particular pages and recipes.  Then they ordered the book, saying their copy of the cookbook was lost in a flood and they valued the recipes it contained.

 

 

Composting and Grace

Thinking about the Way of God

Weather and schedule permitting, I begin my monthly composting cycle by picking up five to ten bags of grass clippings or leaves along the street near my home. I spread these yard wastes in thin layers in the collection area near my compost bin. Nearby I store the coffee grounds I have collected at a local convenience stores and shredded paper from work. Soon I have enough materials to fill my one-pallet by two-pallet bin.

From my collection area, I estimate that I am mixing two parts of carbon or brown matter to one part of green or nitrogen. When I do not have enough leaves (browns) to mix with the yard or kitchen trimmings(greens), I use shredded office paper. For greens I usually have some household wastes (vegetable only) and in the summer, garden trimmings to add to the grass clippings. In the winter, I add coffee grounds (brown-colored, but a green with as much nitrogen as manure which the local convenience store furnishes at the rate of five gallons a day. Then comes a sprinkling of mature compost from the previous batch that was too coarse to go through my 1/2” screen. This compost inoculates the new material with the microorganisms that will speed decomposition. To moisten the materials, I sprinkle the pile with water from my rain barrels. I continue to add more grass and other wastes, then water the mix until the pile is three to four feet high.

During the next weeks the temperature nears 140°. I take a half inch, six foot-long rod and poke holes in the pile from top to bottom to provide oxygen. If I have not lined the bin with plastic, I occasionally water the pile to help maintain a moist environment which the micro-organisms need to break down the vegetable matter. I scrounge agricultural plastic from farmer friends to loosely cover the pile, keeping it moist in the summer and warmer in the winter.

If I see that the composting has not reached the outer layer, I fork the material from one bin to another, being careful to move the outer matter to the inside of the new pile. Dry matter gets watered as I mix it. This mixing provides an additional benefit of an hour or so of vigorous exercise and time to think.

As I lean on my fork I imagine that my composting mirrors the grace of God working in our lives. My compost pile contains other peoples’ garbage: Leaves and grass clippings. I have added the zuchini that stayed in the refrigerator too long, cabbage that the worms wasted, corn stalks from which we have harvested yellow, juicy ears, tomatoes that I neglected to harvest promptly. God takes the remains of one growth cycle, the scraps, the worn out parts, and the prunings of excess growth and mixes them together. He takes the garbage that life dumps on us and adds the air and moisture needed to activate the change. The material that God changes provides benefits for the next stage of growth. Maybe God, the composter, models for us a way of dealing with life. If you make garbage of your life, God will help you make compost or If life brings you garbage, make compost.

Children understand this concept when I have talked to their classes. Tough second and third grade boys enjoy taking deep whiffs of the old kitchen wastes in the bucket I set in the dark next to one of compost. They enjoyed the feel of the compost and some offered to run their hands through the garbage as well. I told them: Sometimes you make a mess of a project at home, an assignment at school or a friendship. Sometimes the garbage is dumped on you, sometimes you make it yourself. God can help you change this garbage into something like compost; something to help you grow when the next opportunity comes along.

“Bioremediation” is s variation of the composting process. Contaminated soil is mixed with wood chips and poultry litter and allowed to heat to above one-hundred and forty degrees. After several months of cooling, the contaminants have disappeared. As a pacifist it seems ironic to me that this process was developed on a military base for soil contaminated by aviation fuel.

Forking the compost from one bin to the other has given me time to think about these things—time also for the change in the compost. After a several months the damp, brown compost now shows little evidence of the original ingredients. As I throw the compost against the half-inch hardware-cloth screen most of the material falls into my wheelbarrow below.

The results of my stress-reducing exercise, the blessing for my rescue of valuable organic matter from the local incinerator, and the boon for my plants, flows dark brown and sweet-smelling through the sifter. From smelly green grass clippings, brown leaves, banana peels and coffee grounds-with time and effort—came the miracle of mature compost.   This compost will enrich the soil promoting a new period of growth. The transformation convinces me that anyone who holds mature compost in their hands has a better “feel” for God’s grace.

If life brings you garbage, make compost.

If you have garbaged up your life, make compost.