When people donate books, they will generally just put the books in bags and boxes and bring them over. (Which you remember we’re asking you not to do until after Labor Day, remember?) Other people, obsessed with not bothering poor old Uncle Blogsy, will check through each book carefully and cut off their names or the names of their family members who wrote the book. This kind of lowers the resale value of a book, as we’ve pointed out in this space before.
Sometimes people go through and pull out every bookmark and every piece of paper ever left in the book. This is SOMETIMES helpful, and sometimes harmful, and, in any case, it’s something we can do for ourselves. But in case you felt like going to the trouble, I thought I would just pass along a few guidelines. I am excluding things which should be pretty obvious. I still remember that family which went through and removed all the fifty dollars bills their Grandpa, who didn’t trust banks, had left in as bookmarks. Obviously, it would have been nice if they had left these in the books, but I understand their concern in clearing out all that dirty old paper.
Review copies of books, that is books which are sent out in hopes of seeing a few nice words published about the book in a newspaper or magazine, will often have a little note from the publisher tucked inside. Sometimes this note will go on for five or six pages, and sometimes there will be one to ten photos of the author and/or the subject being written about, in case you want to publish these with your review. Besides being a part of the book’s overall history, these packets can add a little something to the interest of the book, and can make it more saleable (though it doesn’t make it all that much more valuable.) Leave these in.
Published reviews clipped out of newspapers and magazines, tucked into the book, on the other hand, are just old paper. We at the Newberry are beset with readers who love to get as much information on the book as possible, and frequently include a three or four page article from the New York Times Review of Books, folded over a couple of times, and sadly distending the hinges of the book. You may discard these, if you insist.
Newspaper clippings which involve the obituary of the author are similarly discardable, but I will often leave them in the book, if they’re not bulky, just to let people know more of the story.
Letters from the author should ALWAYS be kept with the book. A note saying, “Here’s my latest. Hope you like it. I circled the section that refers to you on page 86, Bill Shakespeare” is interesting in and of itself, but more interesting if kept with the book it describes. I did actually have a book come in which the donor noted was signed by the author. “There was a letter from him in there, too, but it was just a story about his childhood that had nothing to do with the book, so I threw it away.” I made some discontented sounds, which confused the donor. “You don’t want to read someone else’s mail!” she said. Yeah, I do, and so do some of my customers.
Letters ABOUT the book are a mixed bag, of course. A lot of them are no more than “Here’s you book back; thanks for letting me read it”, and unless they are signed by somebody famous, are neither here nor there. But a few years ago, we got in a modestly rare book about a man who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and lived, only to die riding home for Christmas that year when his horse stumbled crossing an icy river. The man writing the letter was disappointed because his father had served alongside the hero of the book, and the book did not include the story his father always told about a foraging mission after the battle. He then goes on to tell the story. I am not the person to do the research, but that might have been the only time that story was committed to paper, and belongs in somebody’s collection. I was glad the donor had not cleaned out the book.
Unless he tossed out that letter from someone named Robert Lee because it took up too much space. I’ll never know, but I think I’d prefer you let us do the cleaning.