Book Ladies spread the word – the written word

By Cecilia Nasmith

The little Book Nook corner in the rear of Beyond The Blue Box was once declared the best used-book store between Cobourg and Kingston by a customer who happened to be from Kingston – and that's still how the Book Ladies see of it.

These dedicated ladies are the eight-person team of volunteers who strive to keep the Book Nook worthy of that title. And while it does have the feel of a good used-book store, Beyond The Blue Box board treasurer Lynn Jones said, the prices are way lower.

The current team consists of lead volunteer Ann Stokes (retired from the Cobourg Public Library) along with Jones, Joan Prlja, Marny Dalglish, Mary Doig, Honor Shepley, Annie Cormier and founding member Margaret Cochrane who, at 91, started the Book Nook 25 years (and two previous locations) ago.

Cochrane was the one who set up the Book Nook when Beyond The Blue Box opened in unprepossessing premises on Ball Street, where she sold books by the pound.

This was a quarter-century ago, when the thrift store was set up as a creative way of addressing the ideal of reduce-reuse-recycle (in the buzzword of the day), when even the concept of a blue box was relatively new.

Its website boasts that it is one of Canada's longest-standing and most successful community-based waste-reduction and -reuse centres.

It is now located in a former hardware store/lumber mill at 14 Covert St. in Cobourg, where you go up two steps in the back of the store to the Book Nook.

There are display shelves as well as shelves designed (like a library's) to hold great quantities of books with the spines facing outward. There are display tables and drugstore-style spinning racks. There is even a colourful children's section, complete with a stuffed mouse absorbed in a book of its own and movie posters Stokes gets from Rainbow Cinema.

Display shelves hold some of the special offerings like current or recent best-sellers, and the contents are changed weekly. In a big wooden magazine-style display rack by a metal exterior door (where colourful posters are held by magnets and rotated regularly), their big coffee-table books are priced to sell.

And all shelves are labelled, Jones said – cookbooks, health and wellness, art, photography, sports, spiritual.

In the children's section, Prlja recalls how she came in once to fill in for someone became a regular volunteer. She mainly works in this section and also handles women's-health books.

Even with children's literature, there are categories, she said – Scholastic books, teen's mysteries, even comic books - and display space with special favourites like Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter.

The adult-reading shelves adjoining the children's department have lighter fare like baby and child care, plus an entire Chicken Soup shelf (because there are so many versions, Dalglish said, and they get culled regularly).

Dalglish pointed out their movie books on an end-cap spot, books based on movies or on which movies were based.

Jones pointed out their well-packed mystery-and-adventure section. They have grouped authors by letter, though within each grouping they really don't have time to place them alphabetically – if you're looking for a Stephen King title, for example, just check the group where all the Ks are placed.

Other categories customers enjoy include book-club favourites, history, war, politics, lots of biographies, Canadiana, culture, animals, classics and a shelf called old books. These are literally old books they get in as donations, half-century-old works by the hot authors of their day. There's also an intriguing shelf labelled Thought Provoking.

In the spinning racks reside the romance books, which Jones finds are brisk sellers. One spinning rack is set aside for pure variety, labelled Heinz 57 Reads.

It's amazing how many books get donated to Beyond The Blue Box, Jones said. There's a spot beside the store set aside to collect them, and sometimes the boxes reach to the ceiling. To process them all (and to keep the inventory looking fresh), the Book Ladies set aside Wednesday mornings as a sort of weekly maintenance time.

A sale table in the crime-and-mystery area is always a good place to check, Jones said, especially if it's on a Tuesday. Her habit is to look around for titles they need to clear out and set them there with deep-discount prices.

As hard as they work at moving the stock, however, there's always more where that came from. They are aided in their efforts by the great shelving and racks they have been able to accumulate. One great recent find was an end table shaped like a stack of books. It came in as a donation, Jones said, and they grabbed it to place beside a chair near the sales table (with a smaller display rack on top, of course).

Each Wednesday, the Book Ladies also get the invaluable help of some extra volunteers with strong muscles and willing spirits for actually moving in 45 to 50 heavy boxes of books for the morning's work.

It's a long way from that long-ago time when Cochrane was the only Book Lady, and she loves how they all have fun working together.

She still smiles when she recalls hearing that wonderful compliment from that Kingston customer. And Doig said that they have begun making partnerships that spread that love for a good book even farther afield, like their arrangement with a women's detention centre in Napanee.

Each Wednesday as they cull, the Book Ladies keep an eye out for popular titles and other books they think might be enjoyable reading to put together a package that someone from the facility picks up for the women.

And from talking to these people, Doig said, she understands the parcels are well received.

“They say it's a wonderful thing to see the books all stacked up beside their beds,” she said.