Across Maine, summer homes are being closed, their physical contents put to bed for the season as occupants depart for busy lives elsewhere. What often stays behind? Books. Books hauled here with the best of intentions – to forestall rainy-day boredom, to assuage a guilty conscience (“I know I should read this”), to edify, to escape.

Cottages and camps throughout the state bulge with books, old and new, especially in the many places shared by generations of families. People leave, books don’t. I know this first hand. I live on Chebeague Island, which must have at least 500 books for every man, woman and child.

These are summer-vacation books and impressive collections assembled by the island’s serious readers. They include current bestsellers (many untouched), classics of all varieties, vintage tomes bearing dog-eared pages, scribbles in the margins and yellowed tape securing battered covers. Lot of books for kids – and, yes, kids still do read! Especially with Grandma!

These books have spent their lives in myriad places, shiny bookstore shelves, discarded from public and school libraries, at flea markets and, on Chebeague, even at the town transfer station where – ironically – all castoffs must go into giant dumpsters, but where books are treasured and set aside for the next user, to be read and passed on.

This summer has been a great season for books on Chebeague. Each Saturday, the small resale shop that raises money for the Island Commons, Chebeague’s assisted living facility, sets out its eclectic inventory: used furniture, housewares, antiques and, this year, an expanded and glorious book display. Overseeing this new venture is a retired Harvard administrator, avid reader and enthusiastic volunteer. “I shoulda been a bookseller,” she boasts. Indeed.

Thanks to her, the books are now artfully displayed by category: Maine books, cookbooks, garden books, biographies, mysteries and, best of all, kids’ books. (The rule: Kids get one free book of their choosing. It’s rare they leave with just one, however.)


“I’ve learned a few things from these mornings,” our book purveyor says. “For one, there’s the utter delight when a browser finds a book that suits their fancy. A man snags an immense one on wooden ships. A girl of 9 picks an ancient Bobbsey Twins volume. It’s magic.”

The other day, a used but beautiful edition of Audubon’s “Birds of America” took wing. Its new owner thrilled. (Sadly, it was sold before I could buy it.)

One reader was hesitant to spend $3 for a book. “Take it, and when you have read it, maybe we can talk about it,” our volunteer said. A happy customer departed, book in hand.

As we sort through our collection of used books, especially those for young readers, we’ve come across a few that we ruefully note are books “your children may never be permitted to read these days.” Political correctness takes a backseat – at our venue, at least – to the joys of seeing kids walk away with armloads of books and a world awaiting their imaginations.

Are hardcover and paperback books a dying phenomenon with the omniscience of digital devices? We like to think there’s an upside to Maine’s lousy internet service, especially in remote communities like Chebeague. Books are still an important part of life here.

Will all the books that fill Maine cottage shelves or sit stacked on bedside tables ever be read? Unlikely.

But, as any reader knows, the magic of reading is picking up a book, opening the cover and being transported to a new and exciting world.

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