Donate Books; Spark Joy (In Others)

A few months back, there was a gross misunderstanding on the Internet. No, really.

Noted tiny organizer lady Marie Kondo, filled with an unquenchable thirst for bibliocide, commanded everyone to toss their books into their backyards, set them afire, and dance about the flames in a perverse bacchanalia to illiteracy.

Of course not, but that’s what book lovers across the United States heard.

What Ms. Kondo actually suggested was applying her KonMari decluttering method to determine which books they planned to read (or reread) and to donate the rest. Kondo reportedly pared her own collection down to 30 volumes, prompting cries of heresy among folks who answer the question “How many books do you really need?” with “All of them. All the books. Duh.”

But let’s suppose your library is reaching Collyer brothers levels, ready to collapse and bury you in an avalanche of texts. Surely there’s a place where you can donate two or even—under dire circumstance—three books to a noble cause. For Chicagoans seeking elbow room, Turning the Page might just be that cause.

Established in 1998, in Washington, DC, Turning the Page has made a mission of helping public school students succeed in their studies through teaching parents how to help with schoolwork, dispensing books and learning materials, and hosting community nights, author visits, and summer field trips. The organization expanded to Chicago in 2015, and now works with parents and students at four North Lawndale schools.

Funding for Turning the Page comes from, in part, their Carpe Librum (translation, “Seize the Book”) program. Beginning with periodic book sales, the program now has three pop-up stores—one in DC, and two in Chicago—carrying several thousand titles, with more arriving every day. That's where Jacob Dimuzio comes in. Unlike Kondo, Dimuzio really is coming for your books. But only if you call and ask him to.

Dimuzio has worked at Turning the Page for the past two years, overseeing the acquisition and organization of Carpe Librum’s stock. He contacted me to see if, as Third Coast Review’s Lit editor, I had any review copies to spare. Not as such, I told him, but I was interested in hearing more about this “giving my books away” concept. Frankly, I was baffled.

“I am the Development Coordinator for Turning the Page—meaning I manage the whole process of how a book ends up in our stores,” Dimuzio explained. “It starts with outreach, either in the form of word of mouth—generally from our customers—or me directly reaching out to corporate offices, apartment , et cetera.”

Dimuzio and his associates help organizations mount book drives, plopping a bin in the front lobby, mailroom, or elsewhere into which employees or residents can drop unwanted books, CDs, and DVDs. Eventually, Turning the Page schedules a pick-up and totes all that wonderful media to their West Side warehouse, where it’s sorted by genre then taken to the stores.

Donations have been steady, with contributions from 389 organizational donors over the past two years. “That number is only relative of how many people/offices we've picked up from,” says Dimuzio. “But it does not include people who have donated multiple times.”

I asked Dimuzio to guesstimate how many books they have.

At last count we've collected almost 5,000 boxes,” he says. “A box can hold, on average, 20 to 30 books, depending on the size of the books, so I'd be pretty comfortable saying we've collected over 100,000 items.”

Sorting the literary wheat from the reference work chaff is a necessity.

I've had people donate Department of Agriculture Crop Yield statements from the 70s in Ohio, training manuals for specific workplaces…” he says. “I can go on and on—and this is why our sorting is so important. We want everyone that comes in to our stores to walk out with something that piqued their interest.”

Crop yield statements notwithstanding, plenty of good books turn up, and sometimes even a gem comes through.

“We've come across books from as early as the mid-1800s in great condition. Rare books that are out of print…” he continues. “And when we find those, we actually put them aside to be sold online through Amazon and other platforms.”

As the stock increases, Dimuzio and his associates have looked into expanding beyond the stores to “one-day sales at college campuses, weekend sidewalk sales, literary festivals, and so on.” For now though, multiple titles await purchase by Loop bibliophiles at Block 37 (108 N. State Street) and the Thompson Center (100 W. Randolph).

I want to emphasize how special I think our bookstores are...” says Dimuzio. “If your readers step in for a moment…they’ll not only find something special…they’ll also make a real difference in the lives of our families and the North Lawndale Community at large.”

If you’d like to donate books or start a collection for Turning the Page at your workplace, apartment building, or elsewhere, contact Jacob Dimuzio at 773-362-8598, ext. 207, or Turning the Page can be followed on Twitter at @TTPChicago.

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Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly has been a writer and editor for 30 years, contributing work to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Journal, The Baffler, Harvard Magazine, The University of Chicago Magazine, and others.