Bookworm: A lighter load; the ruling class

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale”

  • By Adam Minter
  • c. 2019, Bloomsbury
  • $28, $38 Canada; 300 pages

The paper on your living room floor was waist-high. That tossed-aside wrapping – ripped off the presents in two-point-five seconds – was a good indication of a good holiday, and everyone was content. The mess that was left, though, begged the question of where to put all those new things. In the new book “Secondhand” by Adam Minter, the answer is always a little complicated …

“Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale” author Adam Minter.

No doubt about it, most of us have a lot of stuff and our houses are full.

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So, says Minter, are our garages: a 2006 study indicates that “90 percent of garage space is now used to store stuff, not automobiles.” It’s gotten so bad, this gathering and keeping, that businesses have sprung up to deal with what inevitably happens when personal belongings become an overload of unwanted items that someone must reckon with.

In Minneapolis, Minter found one example of the solution to the deluge. Empty the Nest helps seniors to downsize, hoarders to let go, and surviving adult children to clean out parental homes. Discarded items – which, he discovered, could be family treasures or antiques – go to those in need, or to a thrift shop where they’re sold to people looking for such things. Ultimately, discards may go to landfills, but every effort is made to recycle before that happens.

“Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale” by Adam Minter.

Goodwill Industries (“the king of an American thrift trade”) runs another kind of secondhand enterprise, relying mostly on donations from the general public. Goodwill’s efforts to reclaim items include boutique stores and outlets for the items least wanted; this way, Goodwill helps “divert more than three billion pounds of stuff from the trash heap annually.”

From Japan to India, rag pickers to rag-cutters, Minter explains what happens to our discards and where our excess goes when we toss it. This underscores one important point that should give every shopper pause: most of that which we own is worthless to everyone but ourselves.

That’s a notion that’s really quite sobering: all those antiques, heirlooms, papers, and old projects you’ve been saving for the kids someday…? Chances are, says author Adam Minter, they’ll go to the thrift store when you’re gone, or to a business that deals with the detritus of life. Once you’ve read “Secondhand,” in other words, the presence of that fourth spatula in your kitchen drawer seems a little wrong.

Yes, you’re probably already familiar with thrift stores but there’s more to them than that 99-cent vase; as Minter shows, they’re part of a relatively-hidden network of businesses that handle what amounts to a genuinely shocking weight of accumulation. Those and other such companies opened their doors to him and answered his curiosity, thereby teaching us what not to donate, what not to purchase, why most stuff is worthless, and why too-much-itis is a problem around the world.

If you are curious, downsizing, or trying to be a conscientious consumer, you’ll want this book. Having it on your shelf is perhaps the ultimate irony, but that’s exactly where you’ll want it because “Secondhand” is not something to toss aside lightly.

“The Book of Queens”

  • By Stephanie Warren Drimmer
  • c. 2019, National Geographic
  • $14.99, $19.99 Canada; 176 pages

“The Book of Kings”

  • By Caleb Magyar and Staphanie Warren Drimmer
  • c. 2019, National Geographic
  • $14.99, $19.99 Canada; 176 pages

You’ve always wanted your very own kingdom. Imagine it: knights ready to joust and stables filled with noble steeds, your very own palace, a throne, and a crown with jewels. How awesome would that be? So now read “The Book of Kings” by Caleb Magyer and Stephanie Warren Drimmer, or “The Book of Queens” by Stephanie Warren Drimmer and see what you can expect.

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Let’s start at the top, with your head. You’ll need that crown, so why not go for diamonds and rubies, one like King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway wore; or get one with feathers like Aztec emperor Moctezuma II had in the 16th century.

If you plan on going to war with anyone any time soon, you’ll want to know how to do it and you’ll need a sword. There are several kinds to choose from, including curved ones and a seven-branched sword. Know how to use your weapon by reading all about ancient “warrior queens” and evil kings of literature.

"The Book of Queens" by Stephanie Warren Drimmer.

Don’t forget armor. Minerva, “the Roman goddess of women and warfare” had some. Others just outfitted their elephants with it and stayed high and (hopefully) safe.

But okay, you’re going to be a kind ruler. No war for you; you’d rather be like Akbar the Great from northern India, or Queen Isabella I who may – or may not – have used her religion as “a tool to attain power.” You could be like Nicaragua’s Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, or Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii.

Or, well, maybe taking control of a country is more responsibility than you want and more trouble than it’s worth. You’re not so sure you want to have a crown or a cape and being the king or queen of somewhere just isn’t your idea of fun. So how about being the king or queen of something? Seriously, it worked for BB King, the King of Rock & Roll, the King of Pop, Queen Latifah, and the Queen of Hearts …

The single thing a parent should know about “The Book of Kings” and “The Book of Queens” is that it’s not just about rulers. That should set your mind to rest, of your child wrinkles his or her nose at history: there are people who are real here, but also some that are unreal.

"The Book of Kings" by Caleb Magyar and Stephanie Warren Drimmer.

Authors Caleb Magyar and Stephanie Warren Drimmer stretch the definitions of rulers in a way that works just right, in fact. Some of the entries in this book will poke at a kid’s imagination with enough interesting facts to invite further investigation; other entries may surprise kids who think they know all about princes and princesses. More fun: the information here reaches back into ancient time and forward; it includes modern stars and stars of the galaxy; and at the end of both books, there’s advice for kids on how to become royally awesome.

“The Book of Queens” and “The Book of Kings” belong side-by-side on any bookshelf owned by a 9-to-14-year-old. These are books for the kid who totally rules.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.