I've finished shipping out the books for my BooksForSoldiers project. In total, I sent out 298 books, in 19 boxes, to 9 different military addresses. Some of those addresses represented groups of soldiers: one guy got only one box of books; one group got four boxes; everyone else got two. Each box contained from 10-20 books.
(I actually shipped them out a couple of weeks ago. I'm getting around to blogging (or bragging) about it now because I've been hit by a nasty cold that's threatening to spoil my New Year's weekend. As is my usual practice, I'm trying to balance a temporary misfortune with thoughts of something positive.)
The books have gone where they'll go. But I can't help wondering: What's going to happen to them? Here's my chain of fantasy:
First and foremost, I hope they'll be read. That's what books are for.
Even this wish is suspect. Most of what I sent was science-fiction or fantasy, to soldiers who asked for it. The books are up to 40 years old; this might not agree with the soldiers' expectations. They did not get David Weber or Lois McMaster Bujold; they got Keith Laumer, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Iain Banks, Michael Moorcock. I have a hard time picturing a soldier getting into Marge Piercy's "Woman at the End of Time." But who knows?
To be practical about it, I have to acknowledge that I sent a lot of books, and about half were hardcover; soldiers usually prefer paperbacks. Some of the books were sets of long series; e.g., David Eddings' entire Belgariad and Mallorean sagas, two sagas of five books each. So I might have sent out a lot of books that the soldiers will find useless, dull, or overwhelming. Again, who knows?
I enclosed a letter in each box. Along with my wishes for their safe and swift return home, I also suggested that they share the books with others in their unit. With any luck, the books will be circulated within the military base. I have no idea how such bases are laid out, whether there's a rec room with a shared bookshelf, or even a dedicated library. If there is, perhaps the books will find their way there.
There they may remain, gathering dust. But that's what they were doing in my apartment. At least their potential for being read is greater than it would have been; on my bookshelves there was zero chance for a bored soldier to pick up a book just to pass the time.
I am under no illusion that the soldiers will take these books back with them when they return home, apart perhaps for a paperback stuffed into a duffel bag. The books will stay where I've sent them. Although I don't know how to interpret APO addresses, I know from the forums at BooksForSoldiers that I sent most of my books to Afghanistan.
What of the long run? Of course I don't know, but I'll continue to fantasize: Eventually the base will close. I guess the buildings will be demolished or abandoned. Probably the books will either be part of a trash heap, or be burned.
Or maybe (and here's the fantasy) someone in Afghanistan will see a book, and know enough English to pick it up and read it. Maybe it will inspire them to think of a world beyond their assumed limits; after all, that's why I started reading SF. Perhaps they'll even decide to write some SF of their own.
Twenty years from now, the world might be astonished by the work of the first popular Afghani SF writer. And it will all be due to me!
Enough fantasy for now. Back to the chicken soup.