I was in Trenton today. Since I was going there anyway, it seemed like a good day to stop in at Classics Books, a used and rare bookstore on W. Lafayette Street. I had three boxes of used books that I wanted to donate, and I wanted to donate them to Classics Books. It’s about the Books at Home Program. “The Books at Home Program provides free books to Trenton kids. Studies show that when kids have more books in their home, they do better in school—no matter how much they are struggling.”
So Classics Books accepts donations of used books. They give you a store credit for the donation. And then they do something really great. They ask you to donate the store credit back to the store and they use the store credit to enable inner-city Trenton youth to “shop” for free books at the book store. If my math is correct, they’ve donated approximately $36,000 worth of books to Trenton youth in the last 6 years.
I had sixty books in three boxes in the back seat of my car.
I got to the book store at noon. It was closed. I waited. And waited. It was starting to feel like a wasted trip. And then I met Terrell.
Terrell is a teenager – I would guess 14 or 15 years-old – an African-American youngster who recently moved to Trenton. He had noticed the book store. So today, an early release day from school, what did Terrell do with his free afternoon? He took the bus to Classics Books. Like me, he stood on the sidewalk, waiting to see if the store would open. We started talking. Terrell loves books – mostly comics, he told me, and fantasy. He stood on the sidewalk peering into the storefront window, hoping they might have a good manga collection, willing the book store to open. We waited. We chatted. The book store remained closed.
I had three boxes of used books in my car. I had mysteries, of course, but I had a lot more than just mysteries. I had everything from Sophocles to Dr. Ruth. But I didn’t have comics. And I didn’t have fantasy. Then I remembered something. I dug through the boxes for my copy of the graphic novel edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I offered it to Terrell. He gratefully accepted my gift. We continued to chat. Terrell waited on the sidewalk for 40 minutes before giving in to reality. “I’ve got to catch my bus,” he explained.
I went back into my car, and came out with one more book. “It’s not the kind of book you normally read,” I explained. “You probably won’t like it.”
“I’m open-minded about what I read,” Terrell assured me.
I handed him one of my books. Not my new book, not Death and White Diamonds. He’s got plenty of time later to find out how deeply disturbed I am. I gave him a copy of A Minor Case of Murder, from the Cassie O’Malley series. “When you tell your family about your visit to the bookstore,” I said, “you can tell them you met an author.”
So Terrell went home with two books. And me, I went home with something a whole lot more valuable than two books. I went home with the memory of Terrell, on his early-release day, standing on the sidewalk for forty minutes, hoping that the book store would open.
Thank you, Terrell. I think I got the better of the trade.
Postscript: The woman who was supposed to staff the small book store today has walking pneumonia. So be it. I’ll return with my book donation next week. I hope that Terrell gives the store another chance. I believe he will.