A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The First Opportunity

As I posted on Thursday, I want to look for more opportunities to challenge myself to be a better person. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the 40 Days of Water Challenge, giving up all beverages except water for 40 days and donating the money that I would be spending on coffee, tea and pop (soda, for my East Coast neighbors). My challenge to myself doesn't even have to involve sacrificing something; it could involve other types of fundraising efforts, or include volunteering to serve in other ways. But in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I’ve found something that I could (even should) challenge myself to give up for a good cause: book buying.

Now there’s a real indulgence: my book buying addiction. I call myself a book store junkie, an Amazon whore. I can never resist browsing the latest books when I visit the mall and I spend many nights of insomnia trolling the premier online bookseller for deals and new reads. My only Black Friday tradition is to surf through literally hundreds of pages of discounted books and DVDs, getting most of my Christmas shopping out of the way and always picking up at least fifty dollars of stuff from my own wishlist. I don’t even want to admit to you (or my husband) exactly how much of my paycheck each month goes to pay my Amazon bill… and I love my Amazon credit card, which lets me earn triple the points for each dollar spent on their website, all of which tally up and let me earn AMAZON GIFT CARDS. My husband struggled at first to understand why I didn’t just want cash back – but oh, the lure of more books, free books.

But this isn’t meant to be a public service announcement for Amazon. Or maybe it is, sort of.

In times of disaster, Amazon has dedicated homepage placement and donated use of their payments technology to the American Red Cross. Amazon.com customers have contributed more than $35 million to global relief programs since 2001.

2001: $6.9 million contributed for 9/11 relief in the U.S.
2004: $15.7 million contributed for tsunami relief in South and Southeast Asia
2005: $12.4 million contributed for Hurricane Katrina relief
2008: $180,000 contributed for Cyclone Nargis relief in Myanmar and earthquake relief in China
2010: $750,000 contributed for earthquake relief in Haiti

$6.9 million for 9/11 relief is amazing. $15.7 and $12.4 million even more so. But why only $180,000 and $750,000 for Myanmar, China and Haiti? Can't book lovers do better than that?

My thought was, how much money do I spend on books each month... each week? Can't I match myself and/or give up a week or two of book buying to help ease the suffering,and devastation in Japan? I indulge my book buying impulse so often these days, after all.

For example, on my book blog, I participate weekly in a meme called “In My Mailbox.” This is an opportunity for book bloggers show off books that they have purchased or received that week (not necessarily in the mail literally), before they actually read and review them. We post our purchases, then read about everyone else's new books. The point is that book lovers get to share their excitement over new acquisitions with each other. We’re all book geeks of one kind or another, and our enthusiasm needs an outlet, an audience that understands our bookish glee over new paperbacks and hardbacks, those beautiful covers and unread pages… It also ends up being extra promotion for the specific titles and authors, so everyone wins.

Many people who are regular participants of In My Mailbox acquire between four and twelve novels each week, and ever since I got a full-time job, I too have been indulging myself a fair bit. I no longer feel guilty dropping money on a few books each week when I find them discounted on Amazon, or when I want to grab a couple specific titles so that I can join a new online reading challenge. I've definitely been spoiling myself.

So when I saw the Amazon banner inviting donations to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake/Pacific Tsunami Fund, I realized that instead of giving up beverages, I should start by giving up books. At this point, though, my TBR (“To Be Read,” terminology of the book-addicted world) stack is so high that I won’t be lacking anything to read, anyway. It’s not a sacrifice of my intellectual life or my reading enjoyment so much as a sacrifice relating to my shopping impulses. Some of you will understand when I say that it's an emotional sacrifice.

Most of my readers probably aren’t book bloggers, but I challenge you to think of something that you spend $10–30 a week. Maybe it’s a Starbucks addiction, a tendency to overspend at Target (I do that, too) or even just a comparison to your monthly Netflix bill. You spend $10 or $15 dollars a month to get DVDs through the mail and access instant viewing. Can’t you spare just as much for people who have just lost their homes?

I challenge you to give what you can. Even text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10. Most of us can probably spare the cost of a single new book or a month of Netflix.

And I am issuing a special challenge to book bloggers this week: those of us who have jobs (even low-paying jobs at libraries, non-profits, elementary schools, etc.) should think about this: if we have money to splurge (as we so often do) on books, can't we give up our indulgences every once in a while to help when a need like this arises?

I'm going to go examine my Amazon credit card bill, determine what I spent on books within the past few weeks, and match the amount, donating to the Red Cross Fund for the victims of the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami through Amazon. This is my first opportunity since challenging myself to do something concrete, even if this first step probably won't change my personal character that much.

I’m not posting this because I want a pat on the back – I’m posting this because I want you to join me. Find something that you can give up for a week or two, then donate. And then come back and leave a comment here for me, letting me know what you’ve chosen to give up – I think it would be really cool to hear about other ideas of what people decide to do.

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