Prentiss Riddle: Austin

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Bibliophile fun at Inside Books' work party

Thanks to a reminder from Kathryn I volunteered today at Inside Books, the Austin group that sends books to inmates in Texas prisons.

It was a pleasure. I finally got to put all my years of used-bookstore-scrounging skills toward a worthy cause. Interpreting the prisoners' requests and finding a rough match on the shelves is more challenging than it sounds. When they ask for a specific title or author that isn't available, you get to substitute something else you think they'd like -- a job that made me wish more than once for's recommendation engine in a PDA, but that would have taken the fun out of it.

Inside Books Project

Now I feel inspired not only to go back for Inside Books' regular Sunday and Thursday mailout parties, but also to start prowling garage sales and thrift stores for cheap books in the categories they need. They have a great collection -- there were a lot of books I wish I could have brought home myself! -- but they can't keep up with the demand for paperback dictionaries, thesauruses, Spanish-English dictionaries, and blank journals. Seems like they could also use more good African-American fiction and non-fiction and more puzzle and game books, among other categories. For more info on volunteering or donating, contact Inside books at 512-647-4803 or insidebooksproject[at]

The girls came along for part of the time and helped by drawing pictures for the prisoners and blacking out return addresses on some recycled envelopes. Then they got to go out back and pet the turkey in the Rhizome Collective's meadow. The Rhizome site houses not only Inside Books but the Food Not Bombs kitchen, the Bikes Across Borders bike recycling project and some wild anarchic gardens, among other things.

austin 2004.05.15 link