Weird Job: The Book Man

October 1st, 2007 by kathy

1225274637_85fac883b1_1.jpgHere’s my theory on why people hate their jobs so much: we never get the chance to embrace our passions. That and a lot of people, sadly, follow a very linear path to “success,” never exiting the straight and narrow to revel in one of life’s many exciting detours. I.E. 1) Graduate high school. 2) Go to college. 3) Major in something that has the potential to earn you a pay check. 3) Graduate college. Get Job ASAP, those student loans aren’t going to pay themselves. 4) Get married. 5) Start to realize you hate job. Change job. 6) Realize it’s not your job. It’s your career. 7) Succumb to societal pressures—and mother or mother-in-law—and have a baby, because the birth of a child always makes things better. 8) Panic and misery set in.

OK, OK this is extremely grim, but you get my point. We all want to make money—enough to retire on an island somewhere or send our kids to college. But I often wonder how much damage do we inflict upon ourselves (and others we love) when we stay at a job we hate simply because it pays well. Do we make good parents, husbands, wives, domestic partners, brothers, sisters, or friends if we’re miserable five and a half days a week (face it, if you hate your job, Sunday evening is totally shot because you’re dwelling on how much you HATE your job and your boss).

Well, I think this latest Weird Job speaks to this idea, that it’s not always about the dough. Now, now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all about the Benjamins (and health insurance) too—but balance is a beautiful thing.

Meet Russell Wattenberg, founder of The Book Thing of Baltimore, a non-profit organization that gives books away—for free.

In an interview to The Christian Science Monitor:

“At no point did I consciously think I was going to give away books,” says Wattenberg. Nor was he animated by an epiphany of some sort. It was more like a benign impulse, such as that felt by someone holding a door for someone in need: no big thing for the door opener, important for the one enabled to pass.

Thirteen words describe Wattenberg’s purpose: “taking books people don’t want and giving them to people who want them.”

Wattenberg started The Book Thing kind of on accident. He wound up bartending in Baltimore after graduating from college. Some of his regulars included school teachers who constantly complained about the cost of books. Not thinking it a big deal, Wattenberg collected hundreds of books from thrift stores and yard sales and stashed them in his van. The next time the teachers came in to the bar to commiserate, Wattenberg told his customers that he had some books and they could take what they wanted.

Despite the good he does, Wattenberg isn’t rich. The 35-year-old is “unkempt, favoring T-shirts from thrift shops. He draws a meager salary for his labors and lives like a monk in a small apartment with his cat, Miss Marple.” He used his savings and an inheritance from grandma to open The Book Thing, but to keep things going on a day-to-day basis he receives grants, rents books to movie producers to decorate sets, and occasionally gets his hands on rare books, which he sells.

When it’s all said and done, more than a million books go to good homes each year. Pretty sweet.

Got a book to donate? Check out The Book Thing’s wish list for details.

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