West Virginia Book Festival

For the past three years, Debbie Null, librarian at Sherman High School in Seth, has taken advantage of Kanawha County Public Library’s annBooks in stack white background2 LoResual offer of free books for nonprofit organizations.

Each year, immediately after the library’s annual used book sale (scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19, this year), representatives from nonprofit organizations are permitted to comb through the leftover books and use them in any manner that benefits the group’s mission.

Null initially heard about the program from her friend Scott Blake. At the time, she was the librarian for Van Junior/Senior High School, and Blake knew that she needed books for her library. That year she scored about 10 boxes of books. When she moved to Sherman High two years ago, she continued participating in the program to rebuild that library’s collection.

She mostly gets nonfiction because “fiction sells out pretty quickly,” she said. And that works in her favor because “the common core standards have changed, and the new standards place greater emphasis on nonfiction,” she said.

Her trips to Charleston have resulted in a stronger, more up-to-date collection at Sherman, and that helps her students do better work. “Access to better, more current information makes their research more valid,” she said.

Null plans her expedition by evaluating her collection and assessing its weak areas. Then she makes sure to obtain a diagram of the book sale layout so she knows what areas to hit first. For the best results, “you need to do a little research before you get there,” she said.

She gets help in the form of a few teachers and community members. “They know our needs,” she said. And she brings her own truck to transport their finds back home to Seth.

She highly recommends the program to other nonprofit organizations who need books. “In today’s society, literacy is more important than ever. It is critical that people have access to books. The KCPL program has allowed numerous nonprofits – schools, community centers, literacy volunteers, service organizations and even jails –  to build collections that address their patrons’ needs,” Null said.

Nonprofit organizations may participate by calling Sandy Frercks at 304-343-4646, ext. 242. She’ll e-mail you a form, which must be returned no later than Sept. 6. You’ll need to provide a copy of your organization’s 501(c)3 or other proof of your nonprofit status and your own labor to pack and load the books into your vehicle. Additional instructions will be provided once you register.

Kanawha County Public Library cannot guarantee quantity, type or variety of the leftover books. Please note that Collector’s Corner materials are not included in this offer.

Bastille Day, the French national holiday on July 14, seems like the perfect time to mention one of the more surprising things I learned at last year’s West Virginia Book Festival.

At a reception the night before the festival, I was talking with Judy Johnson, wife of Walt Longmire mystery series author (and Huntington native and Marshall graduate) Craig Johnson. She was wearing a very distinctive pair of hand-painted cowboy boots, and I asked if I could take a photo for the blog. She said I could, so here you go:

This led to a conversation about the boots, and after telling me their provenance (which I’ve forgotten; they were from somewhere in Wyoming), she said that when she and her husband go to France, people stop them all the time and ask where she got the boots. “Do you go to France often?” I asked. “All the time,” she said.

In addition to loving her cowboy boots, the French love her husband’s cowboy books. The French translation of Craig Johnson’s debut Longmire novel, “The Cold Dish,” won the 2010 Prix du Roman Noir (according to Johnson’s Amazon.com biography) as the best mystery novel translated into French that year.

In an interview with Cowboys & Indians magazine (for real) that year, Johnson talked a little bit about his books being translated into French:

You know, of all the places I would’ve thought that the books would really take off, France would’ve been one of the last on my list — it’s so civilized — but they have and with a vengeance.

But the French have a longstanding fascination with the American West. In his book “The Greater Journey,” a history of Americans in Paris in the 19th century, historian David McCullough talks about the hugely favorable reception given to George Catlin, who brought an exhibition of paintings of American Indians — along with some actual American Indians — to Paris in 1845. McCullough writes:

It was not only the subject matter of Catlin’s paintings that appealed, but the director strength of his work, the raw color and a simplicity of form verging on naive. The paintings had much the same fascination for the French as the Indian tales by James Fenimore Cooper. This was the America they imagined, “wild America,” and that they found almost irresistible.

This might help explain another thing that Judy Johnson told me last year. She and her husband also visit Spain, where cowboys-and-Indians books and movies are popular, just like they are in France. But in Spain, people root for the cowboys, she said; in France, they root for the Indians.