I touched a nerve in many readers when I wrote a column last month offering to give my 600 or so National Geographic magazines to anyone who wrote in with a good reason for wanting them.
It isn’t that I don’t love my National Geographics. It’s just that there is no good place in my new house to store 17 linear feet of them. There is also no real reason to store them, because their well-researched articles and stunning photographs are now easily accessible in digital format.
But I just couldn’t bear to throw out National Geographics. Neither, it seems, can anyone else.
Perhaps three dozen readers wrote, called or stopped me around town to talk about that column. Some told me they could still recall a long-ago National Geographic that sparked a lifelong interest in some aspect of science, history, culture or travel. Some commented on the historic role the magazine’s photographs of scantily clad natives in warm climates has played in the anatomy education of American boys. (Several women said that, as girls, they found the magazine just as educational.)
More than anything, though, readers told me that they shared my dilemma.
The first email I received was from a colleague, who attached a photo of his own “yellow wall” — shelf after shelf of National Geographics dating to 1957.
“I’ve moved this collection five times,” reporter Greg Kocher wrote, “and I don’t think I could do it again.”
Bob Calhoun wrote me to speculate that if the world does end this year, as some people think the ancient Maya calendar predicts, it will be because the weight of stored National Geographics in North America throws the Earth off its axis.
“The only reason I am safe from a ceiling collapse,” Joyce Hahn wrote, “is that I have my National Geographic magazines stored in my basement.”
Unlike many antiques and collectibles, National Geographics have little resale value because they all still exist — somewhere. It also isn’t easy to give them away.
Zachary Davis, a senior at the University of Kentucky, wrote that he once had a huge National Geographic collection dating to 1918. The Kentucky Kernel, UK’s student newspaper, wrote an article a couple of years ago about his desire to give away the magazines, but he had no takers until a classmate finally agreed to take them off his hands.
Later, Davis said, a man from Pakistan emailed wanting his National Geographics. The cost of shipping, however, was out of the question.
Several readers asked for names of people who wanted my National Geographics so they could give them theirs.
“My husband will not get rid of close to 40 years of National Geographics,” Doris Stilwell wrote. “I’d be willing to give mine to the second runner-up.”
In fact, only three people wrote wanting my magazines. They all had good reasons, so I plan to pack them into enough boxes that I won’t throw my back out and make three deliveries.
Whitney Withington collects National Geographics so she can cut out pictures of women from around the world. She hand-embroiders those pictures onto paper she uses to make covers for blank books, which she gives to friends.
Through her art, Withington said, “I want to show what women go through around the world.”
Stacey Kindred, a teacher at Estill Springs Elementary School in Irvine, wanted my National Geographics as material for reading folders she makes for the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes.
“The students are required to take the article home and read it with a parent, then return it to school and choose another one,” Kindred said. Each student must keep a log of articles they read and answer questions about each one.
The rest of my National Geographics will go to the Family Care Center, an alternative high school for teen mothers that is run by the city and Fayette County Public Schools.
“They would be a wonderful resource for our students,” teacher Laura Zimmerman wrote, “and we have space in the library to house them.”
When I called to follow up, Zimmerman sealed the deal with this offer: “You’re welcome to come by any time and peruse them if you miss them too much.”