Book love

The little girl’s name, Trinity, was spelled out crookedly in pink gel ink and had hearts placed over the lowercase i’s. She must have been born during the nineties or later, I thought, with a name like that and a gel roller pen with which to write it; not to mention the fact that she had evidently outgrown the hardcover Disney book I was now holding. What I had to do with this book, first, was conceal Trinity’s name. Her book had been donated here to the Children’s Book Bank, and my job was to make it look a little bit better than second-hand. With a small brush dipped in Wite-Out, I painted over Trinity’s name so that another little girl would feel welcome to print her own name inside.

This particular book was in pretty good shape: no scribbles to be erased, no torn pages or bindings, and no stains. After wiping down the front and back cover I tossed it (gently) into the ready-to-go box on the floor next to me. Along with a small group of volunteers I sat at a folding table in what felt like a kids’ arts-and-crafts room, only it was more utilitarian than creative. We shared a modest supply of cleaning tools to use on books that needed some serious care: clear tape for repairing rips, plain labels for covering inscriptions and library stamps, Goo-Gone for erasing sticker residue, plastic scrapers, Wite-Out, and a spray cleaner that smelled like fresh flowers. There were some tough cases in the room, I noticed, as I watched some people spend ten minutes or more on a single book, trying to scrape off old stickers without ruining the book’s surface.

Most of the books I picked up needed no more than a few pieces of tape or some light scrubbing, but I was pleased by how much nicer they looked when I was finished. It had never occurred to me before that books could, or should, be cleaned, aside from the occasional dusting. Here, the washing and mending were ways to give new life to old books. Some dated back to the 1950s (and probably would be of more interest as family heirlooms than as reading material for modern kids). Others were new enough to spark nostalgia for the several volunteers who were near my age. It was fun work for all of us, as we picked up familiar titles and talked about the memories attached to them.

After our two-hour sprucing session, the clean books would be picked up and distributed to kids in neighborhoods where the books-to-children ratio is terribly low. Until that night I had no idea there were so many kids were lacking books; it seems like such a fundamental need for developing minds. I know that not every book we repaired will be a good match for the kid to which it’s given, but I hope very much that each child will pick up at least one of them to be read over and over again, until the taped-together pages become unglued and the shiny covers are coated again with grime.

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