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B.C. man wants homes for thousands of books he soon won't be able to read

John William, who is losing his sight, poses for a photograph with his collection of books that he has decided to sell, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck John William, who is losing his sight, poses for a photograph with his collection of books that he has decided to sell, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

In the 10 years since John William started to lose his vision, he's been finding new ways to enjoy his vast personal library.

Right now, that involves glasses and a magnifying glass with bright lights illuminating the pages.

But he says it's time to say goodbye to much of his collection, about 3,500 books.

“Aside from going blind, I've had four spine surgeries and my doctor has warned me on numerous occasions to stop lifting things over five pounds. Well, some of my books weigh five kilos,” he said.

William said many of the books he owns, from a massive tome on the human cell to a rare first edition laying out the history of the Korean War, aren't available in large print or audiobook form. It's part of what's motivating him to sell so many.

“When that book disappears, there aren't any other books that I think are anything like that book. I don't want that to disappear because I die or I go blind,” he said, referring to the book on the Korean War.

“I would like to pass it on to a hopefully a 30- to 40-year-old. And then they will keep it for 20 or 30 years and hopefully pass it on to somebody else. It's an optimistic view, I understand.”

William posted about the sale of his collection in a local buy and sell Facebook group, complete with a massive spreadsheet detailing each title up for sale, and he said he's already found homes for hundreds, mostly going to families who home school and university students.

Perusing the more than a dozen bookshelves that line most walls in his apartment, you might come across a profile of the oil giant ExxonMobil, books on the Cold War, or even a pocket guide to trees.

The fiction options are much more sparse, it's something he mostly avoids, unless you want to chat about the classics like “War and Peace” by Tolstoy.

“Real life has so many unbelievable stories, and twists, that anyone who reads fiction should be satisfied with reading non-fiction, and knowing that these things actually happened,” he said.

The 68-year-old said his love of educational reading material started in university where he double majored in philosophy and English literature and went on to get a masters in philosophy. “I noticed that I like having them around. I didn't refer to them as much as I did when I was in a course, but I just liked the idea of them being handy,” he said.

His initial collection of about 400 books disappeared after William left them behind with a friend and went travelling.

Throughout his life he spent much of his time travelling, including eight years living in Japan.

He said he's always worked as a handyman of sorts, in construction and later repairing computers, before his health meant he had to retire.

William has a preference for smaller bookstores, like the Vancouver staple Duthie Books, which closed its last store in 2010, over larger national chains, because he said they offer a more curated selection picked by people with a similar love for books.

“I'll pick up a book because it looks like it might be interesting. I'll flip through it. I'll look at the table of contents, or look to see if the bibliography makes sense to me, and then, if I think the content is worthwhile, I'll buy it,” he said.

He said he's resigned to the fact that he soon won't be able to see, but hopes his books will have found good homes.

“It's approaching, I'm falling into it. There's nothing I can do about that,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2024. Top Stories

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