A feature of my neighborhood that I had not run into in any previous place is the FREE box. People will just put boxes of stuff (or, if the stuff is large enough, just stuff) on the sidewalk, with a large sign reading FREE taped to it. I have seen free sofas, free coffee machines, free cassette tapes of classical music, and free boxes of 500 popsicle sticks. I myself once got rid of a perfectly serviceable but annoyingly ugly purple chair through this enterprising method.
The above gives you an idea of the sort of variety that is on tap, but books comprise the vast majority of freely offered items. Most of the time, the books are the kind you would have to pay someone just to burn. Outdated self-help and exercise guides are a common sight, as are new-age crystal healing manifestos, manuals for breadmakers, and similar signs of the youthful enthusiasms of the person placing the items on the sidewalk.
So...usually the stuff is crap. But not always. People part with good books more often than you'd think. On Monday, I walked past a FREE box, and fished out both a copy of Virginia Woolf's Orlando and Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea. Score!
The downside, of course, is that now I have two new books. In an apartment that is rapidly running out spaces in which books may be stored. Jeff and I have discussed various solutions to our dilemma, but have not yet acted on any. Meanwhile, the books pile up. Any trip to a bookstore becomes a point of both pride and shame, as we emerge with stuff we did not even know we wanted or needed, like an oversized art book on images of death in Mexican printmaking. Seriously.
There is a used bookstore near our house that is so completely overloaded with stock that to walk through it is to take your life in your hands. It is as though the building were the home of a hoarder -- the kind whose desiccated corpse must be fished out six months after his death from under a collapsed pagoda of newspapers dating back to 1924. I know not yet whether Jeff and I will either find some new and exciting way of storing books (shelves on the ceiling! Jenga-like furniture made entirely of carefully stacked books!), or whether we will necessarily pass into the dusty netherzone of the compulsive book-hoarder, doomed to be buried alive beneath overstock copies of "The Education of Henry Adams" and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."