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The office is in shambles. Half-filled crates block the hallways and the giant neon backward-R that loomed at the top of the lobby staircase has been removed, leaving only a gray wall and a few nuts and bolts in its place. As editors clear their offices of papers, dictionaries, and other miscellany, the table of discarded books by the back door is piled ever higher.
The utter randomness of these rejects recalls a very extensive Goodwill book section. Along with a selection of airport paperbacks—The Time Traveler's Wife, Bridget Jones' Diary—there are the usual high school reading list suspects: Mrs. Dalloway, Hamlet, The Things They Carried. There is a Christmas tree ornament of a flying Santa resting atop a stack of books on race and urban planning. Unsurprisingly, there are a notably high number of guidebooks: to Chicago, to rock music, to blogging, to bars, to film, and, for some reason, to the gay and lesbian scene in London. There is also a well-thumbed, illustrated copy of the Pill Book, an office essential in case any staff members accidentally mix up their Klonopin with their Ritalin.
Some of the staff, like associate editor Kate Schmidt, have adopted a Zen attitude toward the move.
"I don't hang on to this stuff," Schmidt said. "I figured we should all travel light."
Schmidt left behind a book on urban farms, a 2011 Sox media guide, her (gifted) copy of Bridget Jones, and several "terrible" books that she'd been given to review over the years.
Others, like media critic Michael Miner, found it harder to let go of the stacks of books, read and unread, that line shelves and filing cabinets. The sheer volume of literature that has accumulated in the Reader office is a natural by-product of the daily rhythms of any publication. There are the joke gifts, the books that were reviewed or submitted for review, the stacks of back issues. Writers—and journalists in particular—are notorious pack rats, holding on to books and notes in the event, however unlikely, that they will someday come in handy.
"Sometimes they do," insists Miner. "If you've made a connection between two very disparate pieces of writing, you've probably written something pretty interesting. Every time I think of cleaning house, something comes along that makes it worth hanging on to everything. It's a disease."
Miner contributed almost half of the books in the towering pile, but kept his reference materials, books written by friends, and novels by local authors to whom he felt loyalty, like former Chicago Tribune editor Jack Fuller.
Though we debated selling the stash to raise a few bucks for an impromptu office party, the Reader's collection of assorted leftovers will be picked up by Open Books this afternoon.