Trashy novels

Ace: What’s up with the trailer full of books at the back of McIntire Recycling Center? I see people hanging around in there when I drop off my empties. Is it a secret library?­—Red Tolstoy

Dear Red: Although Ace Atkins isn’t exactly a literary guy, he likes to have a number of serious books on his shelf in order to impress the ladies. But why pay for something you’re never going to read? That’s why Ace’s number one resource for free books in Charlottesville is the Book Exchange at the rear of the McIntire Recycling Center. There, Ace can find Encyclopedias from 1980 (a great vintage for encyclopedias), used muscle magazines, and the occasional Great Book from the western canon like Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck or Like a Hurricane by Roxanne St. Claire.

You may wonder who in his right mind gets rid of perfectly good books. If people are ditching them, they must be wasted paper, right? Well, last time Ace visited the Book Exchange he found half a dozen copies of Windows 95 manuals, but he also landed mint editions of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion, and Jane Fonda’s Workout Book for Pregnancy, Birth, and Recovery by Ms. Jane Fonda. All of these will score major points for Ace when his female entourage stops by his pad, even while their spines remain uncracked (the books’, not the ladies’—Ace isn’t the love acrobat he used to be).

A handwritten notice inside the book trailer limits visitors to 30 minutes daily, but Ace doubts that management enforces the rule if you’re just standing there reading, if you’re a frequent contributor to the stock, or if you’re tidying up the books that people sometimes discard cavalierly on beer can-recycling trips. Remember, it’s not always a sign of destitution to hang out at the dump. Sometimes you’re just being literary.

Where else in Charlottesville does Ace find free books for his faux library? Daedalus Bookshop (123 Fourth St. NE) usually offers a number of free tomes on a table outside its storefront. At the Goodwill and the Salvation Army, paperbacks cost pocket change. Or, if you’re desperate, you can wrap a box of cereal in brown paper and write “Crime and Punishment” on its side. Not that Ace is speaking from personal experience.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to

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