human condition 030319 (toned)

Working as a volunteer at the LSU Book Bazaar is a highlight for me each year and a reassuring nod that people are still reading lots of books.

I’m not one of the hardworking volunteers who shows up each week to collect, sort and price the vast number of books that are donated. Nor do I participate in the backbreaking task of transporting and setting up the LSU Mini Barn for the three-day sale. My task is easy, requires no math or heavy lifting. I get to call out the price of each book so the cashier can record the amount, add it and collect the money.

Sometimes I feel like a detective as I pick up the books a person brings to be purchased. I glance at the title, open the book and read aloud the price to the cashier. Why is the trim, matronly woman purchasing an assortment of books on aliens and birds? Is she planning to write a science-fiction novel about aliens turning into flocks of birds and taking over the world?

The gray-haired gentleman with an easy smile keeps coming back with more books about military history and war heroes. Is he a retired general re-living his past?

The mother with three children under the age of 6 tows a child’s wagon overflowing with children’s books. Easy to understand her motive. It's probably along the lines of, "Please let these books occupy my kids and give me a little breathing space.” Another young mother with a toddler in a stroller comes with an assortment of French, Spanish and Japanese introductory language books. She tells me she wants to see which language appeals to him so he can learn it at an early age.

Then there’s the pretty young woman with a bag full of sexual-themed novels and manuals. Is she writing steamy romance novels? She tells me she’s a sex therapist.

I’m usually accurate in guessing the English majors who cash out with Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty or Thomas Hardy, and the math majors who dump a pile of books with complicated mathematical titles on the table. Just looking at them causes me anxiety and renews my memories of how much I dreaded the subject.

People of all ages, shapes, sizes, interests and backgrounds flock to the Mini Barn. Some leave with a bag of five or six books, while others stagger under the weight of cartons of books and return the next day for more.

One reason I love this volunteer job is that I love books. And I love being around so many people who share my love. I’m reassured that reading books hasn’t gone out of style and, at least in the foreseeable future, nothing can take away the pleasure of curling up in a comfortable chair, opening a book and getting lost in the magic of words.

— Bell lives in Baton Rouge

Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to The Human Condition at or The Advocate, EatPlayLive, 10705 Rieger Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence, and, if writing about yourself, a photo.