Teenagers these days, obsessed with smart-phones, computers and televisions. It’s not like the good old days, when they’d get stuck into a good old book for hours on end. Books are old fashioned, they take up too much space and gather dust, they’re boring.
How come then, when you take a sixteen year old girl to Borderline Books, and tell her she can choose free books, for herself and others, she can hardly believe her luck? She’s on her phone, asking others about their favourite authors, their favourite genres, so she can get books for them too. And then, the next time I travel to Borderline Books, there’s four teenagers crammed into my car. And when we arrive, they’re almost overwhelmed at the sight of all those books, and a lady called Amina telling them they can choose whatever they want, for free.
Perhaps these teenagers aren’t used to such kindness; they’ve certainly had less of it than many of us, living as they do at Depaul House, supported accommodation for young homeless people. But some of them do have computers and smartphones, and there’s a project laptop and games machine they can use, and yet they’re still stunned and excited at the thought of free books. I guess random acts of kindness don’t fall upon some people that much, and it’s not often they’re offered things for free, no strings attached. And books still have meaning, for all ages. They hold knowledge. They take us somewhere else, into worlds of imagination and escape, back in time and forwards into the future. Books remind us of when we were younger, if we were lucky enough to have parents who read them out to us, before life became complicated and pressurised. We turn pages and make sense of our own lives through the stories of others.
The teenagers I took to Borderline Books couldn’t have been happier, with the books on offer and with Amina’s gentle warmth. They collected books for college, books for pleasure and books to furnish future homes. And they didn’t just think of themselves either, because kindness spreads outwards in ripples. They collected books for a pregnant resident, books on childcare and stories to read to her baby. They collected books to give family members for Christmas, books on spirituality and self-help for fellow residents trying to come to terms with the hands life has dealt them. They chose carefully and indiscriminately, and were encouraged in both methods. We said our thanks and piled boxes of books into the boot of my car. And it made a difference, I know it did. In years to come, they’ll open a book and smile when they remember where it came from, they’ll tell others, and I hope they’ll be inspired to give to others as well, for the simple pleasure of it, as well as the virtue.
Borderline Books collect books that are no longer needed by publishers, shops, libraries and individuals and redistribute them free of charge to organisations working with survivors of domestic abuse, homeless people, ex-service men and women, former prisoners, young offenders, children’s homes, hostels for young people, refugees and those applying for asylum and vulnerable adults and children. Based in Team Valley, Gateshead, Amina can be contacted on 07808 704307 or firstname.lastname@example.org