Two trips to the library; a dozen to the local Goodwill; seven visits to the senior center.

Each time, the back of my Subaru wagon was packed with boxes of books. I wasn’t purchasing; I was donating. When we cleaned out the family homestead a few years ago, one of my tasks was to sort through the hundreds of books in my father’s small library. A quick decision was to return to the giver those that were gifts; more often than not, the hand-scribbled inscription read something like, “Happy Birthday, Grandpa! Love, XXX.” An easy call.

I kept the Pogo collection – with each page I turn, I can hear him chuckling – as well as a few selections by our shared favorite authors. Others? Too many to distribute among family, and too many to keep for myself. Into the boxes, into the car, into the hands of others.

As much as we love books, sometimes we just have to let go. Which is okay: Books are meant to be read, absorbed, held close, shared, discussed, swapped, donated, reclaimed and read over again. The quick reads entertain us for a bit; the good ones stick with us for a while. Our favorites often are relegated to the shelf, safely tucked away so that we can pull them out again when we need a good friend.

Despite what we hear about the book industry’s demise, what’s closer to the truth is that it’s changing. In this day of downloading and short attention spans, are books – and most especially books in print – relevant? Well, let’s look at some numbers. According to Nielsen (which rates media other than TV shows), sales of printed books rose in 2015 by 2 percent. Not a huge number, to be sure, but it’s growth. Last year, according to the company’s BookScan, 571 million paper books were sold. Not bad: The U.S. Census tells us that the country’s population in 2014 was just a blink short of 319 million.

Before we pop the champagne, though, there’s a caveat – and at first read, it made a few of us groan and climb back under the covers. What accounts for the growth in sales? Two categories: adult coloring books and books published by YouTube stars. (Cue the weeping.)

But let’s just pretend we don’t know that, and move on. (Hey, a book is a book, yes?)

What of reference books? What about those sources of information we need to help us do our jobs, make us more efficient, explain those tasks or walk us through, step-by-step, a new procedure? What of those books that offer inspiration, that give us ideas for our own work, that provide case studies to help us understand what it takes to get the job done?

Yes, many are available for viewing on your tablet, or your Smartphone, or other magical devices. The information’s the same; it’s just the delivery system that’s different.

Still …

As long as people are still reading, and as long as good information continues to reach them, we’re happy.

There’s one thing we’d like to know: What is your favorite book? And no, we’re not talking about the latest James Patterson pulp or the newest mandala coloring book. What’s your most treasured, work-related, horticulture volume? What’s the one you trust, the one you turn to time and again? Send me your recommendations, and I’ll share them online.

Turnabout is fair play, you say, so yes, I’ll recommend one. I’m a bit biased, but with reason. If you’re involved in commercial horticulture, if you’re employed in the green industry, you stand to benefit from reading this.

It’s called Back Then to Right Now: The Horticultural Industry Comes of Age, written by Bob Dolibois, former executive vice president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association (older brother to AmericanHort). It’s published by the Horticultural Research Institute, and you can find it at http://www.hriresearch.org. Check it out.


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