Read any good books lately?
Seniors at Knollwood Place Apartments in St. Louis Park certainly have.
In May, residents browsed titles at a “Green Books” book fair and picked nonfiction and fiction favorites to take with them. After they’re done, Green Books will recycle the other used books for the next round of book lovers.
Founder Robin White’s nonprofit is a version of a book mobile for seniors — and it’s free. She holds book fairs twice a week at senior communities across the Twin Cities.
“I love it when I walk in and residents say, ‘ “The book lady is here,’ ” she said.
“I’ve been a big reader all my life,” said Knollwood resident Francine Jerson, as she paged through an assortment of biographies. “There’s really a good mix of everything.”
That’s because White and her husband, Dave Alexander, haul close to 1,000 donated books to each book fair and give away several hundred.
“We want them to have as much variety as possible — like a book store,” said White, who updates a computer spread sheet to keep track of donations.
“We’ve given away about 148,000 books so far.”
The most popular genres are biographies of Golden Age Hollywood movie stars, memoirs by political figures, World War II themed tales, romances and detective mysteries.
White and volunteer Lynne St. John organize books on tables by fiction, nonfiction, hobbies, paperbacks and cookbooks. Seniors snap up the children’s books for their grandchildren.
“The large print books always go first — and are harder to get as donations,” said White.
Often the appeal is simply a title that sparks memories. “I showed a woman a book about John F. Kennedy and she talked about being a volunteer for his campaign,” she said.
For White, the fairs are more than being eco-friendly and keeping books in circulation.
Like a librarian, she makes suggestions and shares her knowledge. “How about “Unbroken?” she asked resident Stephen Spielberg. “It’s a true story about World War II.”
But Spielberg was searching for a book about Newfoundland because he had traveled there. “I wanted to bring the climate back but couldn’t get it through customs,” he said with a smile.
“The residents look forward to the fairs every six months and ask about them,” said Brenda Howard Larson, director of therapeutic recreation at Knollwood Place, which is part of the Sholom West campus.
Herman Markowitz zeroed in on his favorite authors — “Clancy, Ludlum and Patterson,” he said — placing the paperbacks on the seat of his walker. “This will keep me out of trouble for awhile.”
White is also adept at reading between the lines. Her book fairs bring a little joy to seniors “who have lost their independence, spouses, family members and friends,” she said.
White and Alexander moved to the Twin Cities in 2007 for his job as a marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas.
“Fiction is a great escape for me,” said White, a book lover who wanted to contribute to the community and had always clicked with seniors.
Ten years ago, she launched “Green Books, A Read and Recycle Initiative,” and started holding book fairs every two months, where she enjoyed meeting and interacting with seniors. Due to demand, the venture grew to book fairs twice a week — reaching 600 to date — at Twin Cities senior communities.
Alexander unloads their vehicles and stacks boxes of books on flat beds to haul into the buildings. “I’m the muscle,” he said. But it’s worth it “to see the smiles and eyes light up.”
The petite White also collects book donations from a variety of sources, including libraries, packing them in bankers boxes.
“I get plenty of exercise and don’t have to belong to a gym,” she said, noting that she logs about 25 hours a week monitoring inventory and setting up events.
She often gets phone calls from families moving a relative out of a house. “They tell me they have about 300 books and I’ll go and there’s more like 3,000,” she said. “I no longer worry that I will run out of books.”
The couple stores excess inventory at their downtown Minneapolis loft.
“Thank goodness we have an elevator,” said White.
As her special version of Little Free Libraries marks its 10th anniversary, White reflected on how Green Books has made her more empathetic and compassionate, as well as more grateful of her independence and health.
“I get more out of it than anyone,” she said.
For more information, go to facebook.com/greenbooksmn.