Internet InfoMedia the joy of stoop books
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Why is it that books found in giveaway piles cast such a spell on us?

My life, like yours, I suspect, can feel like it has been ingeniously designed for the sole purpose of strangling serendipity. Work days are built around back-to-back meetings and video calls; evenings revolve around children’s bedtimes; date nights have to be scheduled weeks in advance; even phone calls to catch up with friends can take multiple rounds of back-and-forth coordination by text.

I have found a secret antidote to all that structure, a magic portal that has no clock or key. It is a neighborhood stoop, or rather, the discarded books that gather there. For you, maybe that translates into a bargain bin or a giveaway pile; wherever you can find books that are weathered, dog-eared and inscribed to someone else. They call out to me like porch lights to a bug.

Why do I love other people’s books? Because they carry no obligation and no expectations, unlike that novel weighing down my night stand, from a friend who insisted that I love it. Or that other one, that won an award I should care about. Or the one I’ve been halfway through for a year. If you’re not on guard, your free time can easily become someone else’s.

Found books, meanwhile, are blissfully dislocated from any hint of duty or “discourse.” They are deserted islands. Population: one.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I purchased two well-reviewed books that had long been on my reading list. That evening, while walking the dog, I found a Saul Bellow novel from 1982 sitting on a stoop. I had never heard of it, and the cover had an unappetizing illustration of a bald man’s forehead, but I scooped up “The Dean’s December” like I had won the lottery. Later that night, as I stayed up reading Bellow on communist Romania (why not!), I beamed while my carefully considered new purchases lay untouched in my bag.

I delighted in each yellowed sentence: “The meat tasted of fire and suggested sacrifice. It carried a creaturely flavor; the smell of the stall, of the hide, was still there, and he had to suppress the unwanted feeling of animal intimacy that it gave him.”

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