Random Thoughts On A Clean Slate


Since Beth went to stay with our younger daughter Lisa for the week between Christmas and New Years, I decided to grab a friend and spend New Years Eve at an alcathon in Waterville. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s an extended social gathering and meeting that sober folks put on during a holiday that can be dangerous to sobriety. Generally they happen at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. It took me about five years after I got sober to avoid sliding into a dark funk just before Thanksgiving. These lasted until New Years and then I was okay again. That was because I did my level best to ruin plenty of Thanksgivings and Christmases before I was lucky enough to find AA.

Another sober friend served as DJ, playing tunes requested by some of the 81 people who came to share experience, strength and hope with other veterans of the booze battle. The food was amazing and plentiful as was the chatter and laughter. I was thrilled to see two old friends who I hadn’t seen for at least fifteen years and know they’re still in recovery. I was home and engrossed in a book by 9:30.

cup of moon

I’m not sure of the final reading tally for 2014, but it was around 230 books. I reviewed about 175 of them, posting copies on Amazon.com, Goodreads, the Central Maine Library Blog and Edelweis as well as sharing some of them here. Christmas replenished my ‘to be read’ stack by an additional ten from my wish list and another ten or so have arrived thanks to swaps I’ve made on Paperbackswap.com. Since most of them are young adult, with a sprinkling of new adult (perhaps the most recent sub-genre), I’m going to focus on plot similarities in 2015 and try to write up something later in the year about what trends I see in this genre and who gets it right most often. Looking back on what I read in 2014, I can say that there was a huge emphasis on grief and loss in what I read and there were plenty of love stories where the protagonist was damaged goods. In almost every instance, however, the authors were able to develop a plot that allowed readers to connect to the protagonist and become empathetic early on in the story.

2014 was extremely successful in terms of selling online. I continue to be amazed at how few libraries are willing to do this. As you know from previous columns, I get the leftovers from several other libraries after their book sales. Granted, there’s plenty of stuff that has no monetary value, but even some of that is valuable in the eyes of people who browse the free corner just inside the library door. Two types of items that most folks would consider worthless, turned out to be quite valuable and I had boxes and boxes dropped filled with both of them off late this year. Movies in VHS format and audio books on cassette are both great revenue generators if you know how to triage them. The reason for this is simple. If VHS videos never made it to DVD, and cassette books never made it to CD or downloadable audio, then the old flavors are the only game in town. Both are really easy to list on Amazon by using the UPC or ISBN. I’m listing ten examples of recently sold items below so you can see why I like getting them to sell.

1: Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account $44.15 (audio cassette)

2: Escape! Because Accidents Happen: $19.40 (VHS)

3: The Wannsee Conference [VHS] $10.70

4: The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax $10.40 (audio cassette)
5: A Palm For Mrs. Pollifax $19.00 (audio cassette)
6: Michael Crichton Value Collection: $23.00 (audio cassette)

7: Frontline: A Class Divided (PBS Video) $18.90

8: Down and Out in America VHS $48.50

9: The Ape Who Guards the Balance [Audio Cassette] $28.50
10: The Golden One An Amelia Peabody Mystery [Audio Cassette] $21.70

These are considerably higher per item returns that libraries see from anything at a regular book sale. The funds generated this way are plowed back into the collection which means almost anyone in the state can benefit from the process as our items are available for borrowing through MaineCat.

Never good to let your skills get rusty.

Never good to let your skills get rusty.

I also sell for myself online and the excitement of the chase, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, is as much fun as capturing the quarry. I have a dozen or so thrift stores in a large circle surrounding Hartland that I hit when time permits. Some are pretty darn inexpensive. I went to one run by a civic organization last Monday and spent about 2 ½ hours browsing books, music CDs and DVDs. By the time I was done, I had bought $52.00 worth of stuff. Included were a couple movies I’m adding to the library collection, five music CDs that will also be added, a CD and two new board books for my granddaughter and ten or so books to swap on Paperbackswap.com. By the time I was finished listing everything that had sufficient value on Amazon.com, I had posted close to $800.00 in new inventory. Granted not all of it will sell, but it won’t take very long to recoup my investment and the rest will be profit. Even so, the challenge of looking through a shelf of books and letting experience and gut feeling determine which to buy is one heck of a lot of fun and because I know it’s easy to make my investment back pretty much every time I do this, there’s no irrational guilt about wasting money. I’m looking forward to hitting more library book sales once I retire in June.

Speaking of retirement, that’s going to be the biggest adjustment/challenge in 2015. Weekends have taught me that thinking I have large blocks of time in which to do amazing amounts of work is pretty much a delusion. I’m too easily distracted and every book in the house has learned to talk. They whisper as I walk by, promising me endless exotic journeys that have light years more appeal than vacuuming, lawn mowing or taking scraps to the compost. When I grab a bag of pellets from the storage building, my metal detector invariably starts crying and telling me I must not love it or I’d spend more time running it over the back yard or the old fairgrounds. I’ve tried pointing out that the ground is rock hard, but that argument goes nowhere. Fortunately, I’m past the mental battle about what will be left for image and self-esteem once I relinquish my role as Hartland Librarian. Since I’m tentatively committing one day a week to catalog for other libraries, my favorite skill isn’t in danger of being lost.

This fellow likes the west branch of the Sebasticook River in Hartland.

This fellow likes the west branch of the Sebasticook River in Hartland.

Now that my brain is coming around again, I have several things I hope to work on as a writer in 2015. I’m challenging myself to enter at least six short stories in various competitions. Over and above that, I’m hoping to go back and finish Finding Ginger, as well s start on Shear Pin Summer (a juvenile mystery) and another YA teen romance with a bit of urban fantasy. It starts in Washington County with one generation, opens 20 years later in Los Angeles and moves back to Washington County where it will involve secrets, blueberries and what I hope will be a dandy teen romance. Stay tuned to see how all this unfolds.

I hope you had as great a Christmas and New Years as I did. I’m loving the grandfather gig and having Piper enjoy her first Christmas at our house made it the best one ever.

I am sooo Cool!

I am sooo Cool!

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5 Responses to Random Thoughts On A Clean Slate

  1. As a physician with certification in Addiction Medicine and Emergency Medicine and the author of “Addiction on Trial: Tragedy in Down East Maine” I found your “Random Thoughts on a Clean Slate” to be both insightful and refreshing. In fact, I recently wrote a blog entitled, “Tis’ the Season to be Jolly…and Sober”. Please let me know what you think. http://addictionontrial.com/tis-the-season-to-be-jolly-sober/
    All the best from one grandfather to another,
    Steve (and “old” doctor and a new author)

  2. and almost forgot – please feel free to contact me as well….Steve

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Great post, John! Looking forward to your further posts … and your posts as you make the big transition to retirement!

  4. Ruth Nixon says:

    A great post and thanks to all Librarians. I do wish more were like you but have met some good ones in my 73 years of having a library card. Hope you’ll keep posting. Ruth

  5. MCWriTers says:

    Looking forward to updates as you enter retirement. Some of us don’t understand the concept, or at least wonder how we’ll organize the time.

    Loving your adventures with book sale discards…but think you may need, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, I think you’ll need a barn of your own.


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