Jack Knox: A love of books gets to live again

Jack Knox mugshot genericThe irony — the wonderful irony — is that giving away the books he could no longer read is what allowed Gordon Jones to read them again.

“I’d forgotten how many I collected,” the 64-year-old says, glancing at the iPad mounted on his wheelchair.

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This is a cool story, a happy tale with a sad beginning. It goes like this:

In 2010, a bike accident left Victoria’s Jones a quadriplegic, unable to hold any books at all — including the old Doc Savage pulp fiction he had amassed as a boy.

So, last spring, he decided to donate his collection to the annual Times Colonist Book Sale. His wife, Linda Jones, brought the books to the drive-through drop-off at the Victoria Curling Club.

Enter Al Haines.

Haines, a retired government worker, is a longtime book drive volunteer, one of those who spends the two weeks between the drop-off and the sale sorting the donations. He is seldom seen without a sheen of sweat on his forehead, the result of doing the heavy grunt work, dragging cartons of books around with a pallet jack.

The effort meshes nicely with one of Haines’s other volunteer pursuits: scouting out and scanning in old books for use online. It’s part of a global effort in which out-of-copyright titles are made available, for free, to readers using electronic devices.

Last spring, I wrote about how excited Haines was to stumble across the Doc Savage novels — dozens and dozens of them — hiding among the hundreds of thousands of donated books. Dating to the 1930s, they were no longer covered by copyright (in Canada, that means any book whose author has been dead for 50 years or more) so were eligible for uploading. It was after my column ran that Linda Jones wrote in to explain how the books came to be donated.

A year later, Haines has finished scanning the pages. Other volunteers have picked up the torch and begun proofreading them. So far, 13 of the Doc Savage books have been posted at fadedpage.com.

That means that Linda Jones was able to download them onto her husband’s iPad this past week. Suddenly, after nine years of the books being out of reach, he can read them again.

“It brings me back to my childhood,” Jones says.

He remembers picking up his first one as a 12-year-old on the way back to Victoria from a wedding in Valemount. Having run out of library books, he poked his head into a store at a campground in Fairmont Hot Springs. “There was a Doc Savage book.”

Savage was the kind of fictional character boys love, a wealthy crimefighter enhanced by science and technology. “He was a little bit like Iron Man,” Jones says. As a boy, he was hooked.

Once back home in Royal Oak, he began scooping up Doc Savages from a used-book store on Broad Street, funding the purchases with money earned working on a friend’s farm. “Within the space of five or six years, I had 69 of them.”

Jones lapped them up then, and is enjoying them again today. “I was and still am a prolific reader,” he says. He uses a stick held in his mouth to manipulate his iPad. “I still prefer the written word, as opposed to talking books.”

As for the hard copies of the Doc Savage books, Haines handed them off to Victoria’s Sascha Martens this month.

Martens was first in line for last May’s book sale, camping overnight outside the Quadra Street curling club for more than nine hours, waiting for the doors to open. The Doc Savage books were among the titles he hoped to nab, so Haines made sure they got to him when the scanning was complete. Martens wrote in last week to say how happy he was that Haines had made the effort.

Jones was also pleased to learn his collection had gone to Martens.

“That’s thrilling,” Jones said. “I’m just so happy for him. Now he can enjoy them as much as I can.”


About the book drive

It’s time for the 22nd annual Times Colonist book drive.

By now, you know how it goes: Readers donate good-quality used books, which volunteers sort for resale to the public, with all the proceeds going to education and literacy projects on Vancouver Island.

As has been the case since 2010, both the book collection and book sale will be at the Victoria Curling Club at 1952 Quadra St.

The drive-through book drop-off will be Saturday, April 27, and Sunday, April 28, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. both days.

If you want to donate, please pack books in boxes or bags that you don’t want returned. No encyclopedias, textbooks, magazines, medical books, outdated reference works, Reader’s Digest condensed books or National Geographics, please.

It would be greatly appreciated if the boxes were small enough to be lifted by the volunteers, many of whom have good souls but bad backs (and gosh, if you feel like helping out, we’d love to have you).

The lineup for the drop-off can be long, so you might want to give yourself a bit of extra time. Once on site, it will go more smoothly if you follow traffic directions and stay in your vehicle as the volunteers empty it of books.

Please don’t enter from Caledonia Avenue; not only will you find yourself like a salmon swimming upstream, but the Victoria police need to use that lane.

The book sale itself will take place Saturday, May 11, and Sunday, May 12, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

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