Most of my work days are spent here at my desk at home, copy editing scholarly books, usually on topics of education. It's interesting work, and there are definite pluses to being able to do it from home.
Then, once or twice a month, I get to write an article for a web site promoting good things happening here in the Upstate of South Carolina--a little bit of spending money for some pretty interesting work, learning about what's going on around me.
But hands down, the most rewarding work I do all year--if "work" can even describe something that brings so much personal satisfaction--is heading up Great Kids Deserve Great Books, the annual children's book drive of Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, now in its 4th year.
Great Kids Deserve Great Books collects books to give to each student in high-poverty schools here in Spartanburg, and nothing could be closer to my heart than that.
The first two years I lived here, I was involved only in the sorting of books and distribution at one of the schools. Having worked in two different children's book mail order businesses, I had a good handle on the sorting part, determining the proper age range for each book, making sure there was a good mix of boy/girl, fiction/nonfiction, advanced reader/emerging reader, and so on. But with mail order, you never get to actually see a kid pick up a book and get excited about it.
So going to that school and being with the kids when they picked out their books--well, I was in smitten. In love. Besotted. Not only were these kids picking out their books, but they were being given the books to take home, and some of these kids may have never owned a book before. I wanted to do it again.
Last year, I was asked to head up the drive, and in addition to the bin collections we had done the previous two years, we were given a donation from the Rotary Club, and with that, I went down to Atlanta to GABBS, the spring remainder and overstock sale, and bought nearly 1,000 books. I was familiar with this sale because I used to go there and buy books to sell in catalogs, thinking about sales projections and profit margin and catalog slots. But this time all I was thinking about was getting as many books as I possibly could for the money I had available.
I loved being able to get so many new books to mix in with the donated used books, and once again I got to go to one of the schools while the kids picked out their books. You may have to know me well to understand how close to heaven that was, being able to buy books and give them all away to kids. To be there with kids as they looked over the books to make their choices. One child tearfully came up to me and asked if there was another Sponge Bob book, because other kids had snatched up the two or three on the table, and I was able to find a different book to make her happy, which very nearly made my own heart explode with happiness. Another boy came and asked me if I had any snake books, and once more, the answer was no, but we were able to find something he liked. Another satisfied customer.
This year, we got twice as much money donated, this time from Advance America, and again, this past weekend, I went to Atlanta to buy books. I had to use that money to cover the expenses of my trip as well as buying books, so I had to be as frugal as I could be--and not shy about asking the vendors to work with me since I wasn't reselling their books but giving them away.
One of the vendors donated the shipping costs so that I could just spend my money on books. Another took a percentage off of the total to offset the shipping. Yet another gave me her rock bottom prices on the books I was buying (and this is a business with thin margins to begin with) because shipping was out of her control. I'm still waiting to hear from the last vendor, because she was checking with the owner to see how they could help.
There are a lot of things I have loved doing professionally over the years, but I can't think of anything that has given me so much sheer joy as these trips to Atlanta for this show. Back when I was buying books for resale, I loved the book shows, and the remainder shows in particular. Row upon row of books--but more than that, books on sale. For cheap. It doesn't get much better than that for a frugal book lover! And I could, and did, wheel and deal. But as much as I loved it then, doing my best to drive up our margins and down our cost of goods, there is nothing quite so rewarding as buying books that you get to give away to kids.
In a few weeks, the boxes of books will begin to arrive, which will pretty much be like Christmas for me. Then the process of sorting and boxing these books, as well as other donated books we collect, to distribute to our schools. I ended up being able to buy over 1700 books in all. I found not one, but two books about snakes, and I hope the snake boy will be back and find one of them. I have dreams of him growing up to be a preeminent reptile scientist, but even if he doesn't, I'll be happy to send him home with a couple of books to call his own.
These kids in these schools may not have been dealt the best hand in life, but they really are great kids. And great kids do, truly, deserve great books.