Four Years Hence: Just One Book

Four years ago this summer, I spent countless hours inside a school library room that had previously hardly had any books and nothing up to date. I wrote a blog post titled Just. One. Book. Neil Gaiman retweeted it. Fellow writers in Binders on FB shared it and well–we went from maybe a hundred “books” to over 20,000 contemporary and new copies of classics in a summer. Our local post office saw more business than it had in years. People in the community came out to help open boxes and send as many notes back of thanks that we could. (Sorry if in the shuffle we didn’t get to you). The generosity and kindness of strangers sending us books blew us away. We had book clubs!

It was indeed overwhelming.

But it was also a great spark. In a dark time it reminded me and so many others here that there are good people in the world that care about such simple things as having good books to read.

So what became of us and the library project? Many things. For starters, the two schools that shared the library broke up (which I think I wrote about before). So the initial building housing the library is now just Greenville High School and they have quite a decent library now thanks to those who answered the call.

Indian Valley Academy moved to Taylorsville 15 minutes away and grandparents who happened to have a mill donated shelving to do floor to ceiling shelves in a smaller room, plus use smaller shelving donated by readers of the call for a student lounge area. We put a mini library in each classroom as pertained to subject too.

We built up both the local traditional elementary school and the charter with age appropriate books and furnishings for their libraries.

We fulfilled wishlists that neighboring high school libraries Quincy High School and Loyalton High School had as well as the continuation school and their library. We gave boxes to Portola High School too.

Books that felt more appropriate for adult education and those that were skill based that fit with the Greenville Wellness Center’s mission for adults we gave to them.

Teachers that had needs for classroom libraries were given books. Kids I knew had no books in the home or not enough books in the home and are avid readers received packages of books. For over a year I had a banker’s box in the back of my car and whenever I found a kid without a book and needing one I put one in their hands.

Local community college students were gifted books they couldn’t afford on their syllabi.

Many people bought gift cards from Books and Beyond in Chester and I worked out an agreement to revisit our account every summer and purchase new books with it and distribute them among the schools. This year we ordered Ibram X.Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist.

Finally–and perhaps most poignantly for me, after the Library Project was more or less complete, I gave books on your behalf (your being you all who donated from this blog) to student inmates. In my creative writing class in prison, each incarcerated student was given an author to study the structure and style of–and then to report back to class what he learned that could be applied to his own writing. Your books helped make that happen.

Nothing quite turned out the way I thought it would. I envisioned a giant library and the town coming together over it and learning and imagining and somehow reaching some sort of peace (so naive…). But amazing things did happen and so many students and adults got turned on to authors they didn’t know existed. They are still being turned on today.

My oldest graduated from Indian Valley Academy in June in a drive-by ceremony in Taylorsville Class of 2020 The Year of Covid19. I will spend far less time in school libraries. My daughter’s school Quincy High School has benefited (they also had an amazing librarian who was happy to work with me to get books in their hands)–but I don’t spend so much time there either.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You helped struggling teachers get contemporary books into the hands of students. And the up and coming crop of kids have the same access to great books to read. And because of you I became the crazy lady with books in her car to lend, to give, to swap. To keep it going. (For the record, my kids are kinda sick of the crazy lady with books in her car who stops for everything and says–“I have a book you need to read…”).

In this time of upheaval of our institutions and of simple human kindness often being lost in translation, I think back to this summer with great fondness of what humanity can do.

I have my life back. I also have the story you helped me create. You have it too.


  1. Shannon O'Donnell

    I have kept a bookmark on your original post and went back to it often over these past few years. Your vision and excitement about this project was illuminating and challenging. I have told other people about it and the deluge of books and furnishings that came to that small place on the map. The back of my car is loaded with boxes and bags of books that will go into the jail once I get to go back in. People continue to be generous and to ask, “Could you use a few books for the people at jail?”

    Thank you for inviting others into the fun. The stories are many and the ripples will continue!


    1. Margaret Elysia Garcia

      So glad you’ve been able to bring books to jail! Yay! That in and of itself is inspiring. Teaching in prison and giving out books in prison has been completely rewarding for everyone involved. People in prison become readers whether they read on the outside or not and I’ve never had students so enthralled with books as I have in prison.

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