March 3, 2016

Buy a book a famous person touched for charity, you charitable book-loving person, you


Famous person touching a book

Famous person touching a book

Here in this brave (?) new (ish) digital world, it comes as no surprise that a lot of us want our real books, records, and friends back. Yes, even the tech-minded (not to mention the downright antagonistic) seem to be nostalgic for the brick-and-mortar days—when books were held, not downloaded, and friends were made, not followed.

Another thing that is not surprising is that people really love celebrities and want to touch the things celebrities have touched. Even if it is literal garbage.

Which is why the San Francisco-based conceptual artist Josh Greene has combined these two non-surprises into one charitable act. As Wired‘s Emma Grey Ellis reports:

Josh Greene has been asking famous people to send him personal copies of a meaningful book—something from their shelves they’d find difficult to part with. Somewhat surprisingly, people have been willing and eager to send in their favorite reads. The haul, part of a project Greene calls Read By Famous, includes books from Jon Stewart, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Francis Ford Coppola, Douglas Rushkoff, and basketball legend Isiah Thomas.

Now that Greene has pulled together nearly 100 books, many signed and inscribed by the celebrity reader, he’s selling them off on the Read By Famous website—and will donate all the money he makes to nonprofits Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, African Library Project, and Room to Read.

To which you might respond: “Okay. Cool. Those seem like good charities to contribute to.” But Greene himself admits that the marriage between celebrity and book they just happened to own is pretty weak:

Books and fame don’t seem to have that much to do with each other at first glance – but we are hoping that our coupling of the two will promote a renewed relationship to the objectness of the book, and through that, to the pleasures of reading and literacy itself. And to that end, the proceeds from the sales of Read By Famous books get donated to book and literacy focused non-profits.

Ah, yes, we forgot about objectness.

Thus, Greene handles the donated books with white gloves. Books are “humble” objects, he tells Wired. Books remind people that Jon Stewart is also a person—a flawed, crappy, plague-upon-the-Earth person just like us.

The celebrity-owned books, too, are flawed—in fact, the worse they look, the better they indicate the raw, terrible humanity of their owners, the higher the price. Greene catalogs instances of such human terror—dogged ears, weak spines, cut corners—and uploads them to each book’s profile, where collectors and philanthropists can choose to “follow” them before checking out.

Notable selections available now include Eileen Myles’s copy of Deleuze’s Masochism ($133.00), Michael Pollan’s copy of The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, and Gary Shteyngart‘s copy of Etgar Keret‘s The Nimrod Flipout ($79.00).



Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.