No doubt you have noticed that many of the books we Alexandrians love are out of print, and we aren’t the only ones who love them. More and more families, encouraged by places such as Ambleside Online, Valerie’s Living Library, Jan Bloom’s books, and others like them, are starting to seek out living literature to fill the shelves of their own home libraries. While it is a delight to see others enjoying these treasures too, the effect this surge in interest has had on the prices of these books is undeniable. We have seen what happens when Reshelving Alexandria, A Delectable Education, or Circe shares a good book or series with us and suddenly prices skyrocket as every available copy is snatched up online. A little-known book that could be found for a few dollars just hours before is now available for no less than the cost of a month’s groceries for a family of eight, if it can be found at all.

These many evangelists of living literature who inspire us to fill our children’s minds and hearts with stories that live, and thereby enliven, are all contributing to the greater demand for these books; and with that, their subsequent increase in price. We joke about it amongst ourselves when a new book or series is showcased, but the frustration is real, especially when the book that magically and instantaneously transforms into a unicorn is one for which you yourself are already hunting; or the book that was sitting in your online cart waiting for next month’s book budget suddenly disappears. Why then is it a good idea for Reshelving Alexandria and these other apologists for living books to continue to share their finds with the world, knowing that prices may rise when they do?

When Reshelving Alexandria and the many other beacon lights of living literature share a book or series with us, not only are more families aware of which books to watch and search for when shopping online, we are all better equipped to become more effective book rescuers ‘in the wild’. As we know, many school and public libraries are culling from their collections books that are either not widely circulated, or simply were published before an arbitrarily set date, sometimes as recently as eight years ago. Eight years! This means that many of the treasures from the golden age of children’s literature are being discarded, hopefully to be brought to library book sales, but even then, if not sold at once, they are recycled. Shredded. Let that sink in for a moment. There are copies of A History for Peter, Here Come the Bees!, and The Courage of Dr. Lister tossed into dumpsters, simply by virtue of their publication date, or because they have been forgotten and are not being checked out often enough by library patrons.

These books are making their way from private collections to thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales. And far too often, from there into the hands of crafters who see them as only the sum of their beautiful parts, to be sliced and diced and mod-podged. These hide-poachers even vivisect intact, solid, readable vintage books just for their lovely covers, discarding their pages and with them their potential to shape hearts and minds. Decorators denude them, paint them, and varnish them by the stack, chasing whatever trend is cresting at the moment. They are bought by the foot by house-stagers and interior designers, to languish on top shelves and mantle pieces, beautifully arranged, but unloved and unread.

If we maintain a mindset of fear and scarcity, worried that shining a light on these lovely books will make it harder to obtain our own private copy now, we ourselves ensure that fewer of these books will be saved from destruction; that more of them will remain unfound and un-ransomed. The more widely and freely we share the beauty of these books with those around us, the more of us lovers of living books there will be at library sales, thrift stores, and antique malls searching to reclaim these gems.

Every one of us is on a limited book buying budget, though the dollar amount looks different for each family. None of us can rescue the entire contents of a thrift store’s book shelves or a library’s book sale, and not every book there is worth ransoming. Few of us have the shelf space to house that many books either, though most of us, admittedly, do try. The education about worthy authors, illustrators, titles, and series provided by Reshelving Alexandria and others like it helps us to know how to put our book budget to the greatest use, stewarding the resources in our care. If you had to choose between two ten-dollar landmarks at a flea market would you choose Daniel Boone or The Mysterious Voyage of Captain Kidd? Would you know that a Book of Knowledge series from 1927 was an entirely different animal than one from 1997? Would you reach for a book from the American Adventure series, despite its tattered cover? Do your children help you play a game of ‘Find the Spines!’ at the used bookstore?

Even if it is not a book that you will be welcoming into your home permanently, whether due constraints of space or budget, knowing that these treasures are treasures and being willing to save them for others to find through places such as the Reshelving Alexandria Marketplace is a tremendous gift to the community of living book lovers. Gems like these once lost are lost forever. And without us looking for them, they will be. Every book found in the wild and rehomed is one more book reentering circulation; and one less book purchase online driving up already inflated prices. I have been blessed to buy books from fellow Alexandrians who have rescued them so that they can find their way into the hands of other living book lovers, kindly offering them for sale at affordable prices.

I have been doubly blessed, and humbly inspired, by some wonderful women in our community, the Misses Rumphius of books, whose joy it is to ‘book fairy’ their finds into homes that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them, spreading the seeds of living literature into hearts that are forever changed by, and forever grateful for, their kindness. If you are able to pick up a copy of Roxaboxen or Blueberries for Sal within your family’s giving budget, what a delight to be able to pass it along freely to a child whose imagination will soon have them building a make-believe friend-filled town or plink-plank-plunking blueberries into their own pail, while keeping an eye out for bears, of course.

Consider, how was it that you first learned about living books? It was no doubt because someone further down the trail than you called back and said, ‘Come along! This way! There is Truth and Goodness and Beauty ahead!’ Just as we are here because of those who graciously shared their wisdom with us through well-researched booklists, encouraging ‘books about books’, and heartfelt conversations over steaming cups of tea; we as the recipients of this knowledge need also have generous hearts to steward this knowledge of living books forward by sharing it in the most accessible ways we can with those who are joining us on this path.

To succeed in restoring living literature to our children’s and grandchildren’s hands our effort will need to be cooperative and generous. Our mindset will need to be one of abundance and hope, not of scarcity and fear, worried that somehow more for you must mean less for me. Like those who curated this knowledge before us and discovered these treasures that we now know to look for, we too will need to see beyond the ‘me’ and ‘now’ to the ‘us’ and ‘then.’ Our vision will also need to be far-reaching and multigenerational if we are to reclaim our shared literary heritage. This mission of Reshelving Alexandria and those who love living books is bigger than one family and one home library. It is bigger than just these books or just these authors or just these days. It is bigger than the unicorns we are hoping will make their way back into print. It is about growing better souls through better stories. Every mind, every heart, every imagination brought to life through living books fills our world with greater wonder, greater joy, greater love. Someone once handed you their treasure map; one with all of its most beautiful vistas circled, its pleasantest trails underlined, its quietest forests marked. The treasure this map points to isn’t one that is diminished by being shared; it increases.

Are there ways we can change how we build our libraries so as to help mitigate the effects of the increased demand on the prices of these out of print books? Yes, and I promise to share some soon! But the first and most important changes that need to happen are changes within ourselves. We have to let go of the fear of losing out on good books as prices rise, confident that wonderful living literature will make its way into our home at the right time and for the right price. We need to embrace a spirit of thanksgiving and joy, not only for the living books that we ourselves will be able to find, but also for the companions that will join us on our journey.

Johanna Bittle

Johanna Bittle writes from a lifelong love of captivating stories, insatiable curiosity, and a childhood spent in nature. Homeschooled first grade through high school, she graduated from Hillsdale College with degrees in History and Classics, then continued her postgraduate studies at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Together she and her husband homeschool half a dozen precocious children in a house brimming with books in Little Rock, Arkansas, where her husband ministers as an Eastern Orthodox priest. She enjoys reading, writing, and pursuing the True, Good, and Beautiful alongside her children.