Guest commentary: Bound by love of literature — the story of a La Jolla book rescuer

Mimi Sells' literature-laden office contains many of the books she's saved from uncertain fates.
(Mimi Sells)

Some people rescue dogs. Some rescue cats. I rescue books.

It started innocently enough. Four years ago, we made a major relocation from Northern California to San Diego. And we needed to whittle down our lifelong possessions.

For me, that meant eliminating decades worth of books. I sorted through years of club picks, personal favorites and old USC textbooks. I slimmed down our swollen bookcases, destabilized our staircase collections (thank you, Dean, for this storage idea) and pried books from closets full of well-loved but never to be read again classics.

We donated books to our public library. We gifted books to willing (and not so willing) friends. I wanted to be sure my books were delivered to loving homes or at least given a chance of a library adoption.

Our new home in La Jolla is smaller and sweeter. It barely has room for one bookcase. Initially, I managed to live in a nearly unbooked abode. I learned to enjoy audiobooks on CD while commuting in the Bay Area. Now, I borrow from the cloud libraries in three counties as well as download from Audible. I also learned to love reading borrowed library books on my iPad, which was a better solution for travel and even better for reading under the covers on sleepless nights.

But a funny thing started happening in my new neighborhood. I discovered many Little Free Libraries on my daily walks. Most are full of neglected and tattered volumes. But — oh, the amazement — some are filled with the latest bestsellers, award-winning books and Nobel-earning tomes.

This Little Free Library on La Jolla Hermosa Avenue is one of many in La Jolla.
(Mimi Sells)

I can’t abide the idea of great books spending their last days facing the elements, huddling in unheated LFL boxes on neighbors’ front lawns. So one day I took a book home. And then another. And another. Especially from one of the little book cages that’s fed frequently by a well-read neighborhood. I make a point of walking past that literature-endowed LFL weekly.

Of course, my intent is to read all these precious volumes and then return them. But often I don’t get around to it because I’m reading and listening to other books online. Sometimes I do return an LFL book. Especially if I didn’t love it. Other times, I lend them to others who I know would love a particular novel.

My collection of rescued books began piling up under our coffee table, in hillocks on the floor of my office, in the den and under my bed. But they are safe here and keep one another company. I don’t think they want to return to their spartan LFL boxes. But I don’t ask them either.

I don’t just rescue abandoned books from lives on the street. The La Jolla/Riford Library has a huge selection of gently read books that it sells for a buck or two each. In fact, I just returned with three hardcover books I felt compelled to rescue. These books, too, deserve a loving, permanent home.

My $6 library haul: “Forest Dark” by Nicole Krauss, “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro and “Here I Am” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Each book is by an author whose previous works moved and restored me. I just cannot let them lie ignominiously among lesser fiction when surely I will read them. Someday.

I am not a bookaholic. I am a book rescuer. The sight of books makes me happy. I love wandering in bookstores. But I get no extra joy cracking the spines of brand-new volumes. I get high with a little help from recovering pre-loved books sent out to pasture.

I don’t judge why others dispose of books. I know why I got rid of my Bay Area collection. It was a justifiable moving-cost reduction. But I still feel guilty. And I still miss my musty piles.

So I rescue books. The stacks grow. And my little house is slowly but surely becoming more of a home — a welcoming place where books can live out the rest of their days along with me.

— Mimi Sells is a La Jolla resident who writes the blog