Books for troops in Iraq create diversions | VailDaily.com

Books for troops in Iraq create diversions

Kathy Heicher

Lois Bottomley with some of the thank you letters received from soldiers who have received books from Aunt Betty's Recycled Reading in Eagle.

This is the second in the “Heartfelt Thanks” series by the Eagle Valley Enterprise. The articles, in which several downvalley residents agreed to share their special stories during the holidays, will appear throughout the week.

Sometimes it’s little gestures that generate the most heartfelt thanks.

Since mid-July, Aunt Betty’s Recycled Reading store in Eagle has been shipping overstock books to soldiers in Iraq. With the help of customers, the small local business has packed off about 200 books in the past several months. The soldiers are sending back letters, typed and hand-written, expressing their gratitude for some diversion from the business of war.

“I would like to thank you for your generous gift and assure you that the books you sent have made the time for many of us more enjoyable. Thank you for your support of the United States military and the soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines who give it their all every day,” wrote Staff Sgt. Chris Webb. The sergeant goes on to explain that his 10th Mountain Division Intelligence battalion has been in Iraq since March, supporting operations in the city of Kirkuk.

Aunt Betty’s owner. Cheryl Bottomley, and her mother, Lois, who operate the local store, created their “Buy a Book for a Buck” program after working with a regular customer who was sending novels to a nephew stationed in Iraq. After donating a couple of dozen books to that effort the women reasoned their other customers might also enjoy helping out.

The program is simple. Surplus books are set aside in a box. Customers select a book or two from that collection, and donate a $1 per book for postage. Aunt Betty’s picks up any extra shipping costs.

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“That’s our contribution,” Lois says.

She says customer response has been enthusiastic. The Bottomleys have found that customers prefer to choose the books themselves, putting some thought into the type of reading that might interest a soldier in a war zone far away from home. Diversion is the key. Favored authors include thriller writers Robert Ludlum, Dean Koontz, and Stuart Woods. Authors Patricia Cornwell, Wilbur Smith and Sidney Sheldon are also popular.

One of the thank you letters came from Private First Class Christopher Gaiser, stationed with the 101st Airborne in northern Iraq, who found the book store’s name and address stamped on the back of a Dean Koontz book, “Mr. Murder,” which the soldiers had read and passed around. He said the troop’s current operations limits contact with electronics.

“Reading that book helped us all get away a little bit and pass the time,” Gaiser wrote in a July 27 letter.

The Bottomleys said there was some red tape involved in sending books. Boxes must be addressed to a specific individual, rather than a company. The store owners invite customers to bring in the names and addresses of soldiers that would like to receive book. Lois said the store does not need books to be donated for this cause, the store has plenty of overstock paperbacks.

The books-to-Iraq effort is apparently greatly appreciated.

“Thank you very much for your extremely generous donations of books. That should keep me and the guys busy for quite a while. I sincerely appreciate what you did. After dealing with the constant ambushes and bloodshed out here, it is extremely comforting to know there are still some good people in the world ,” wrote Gaiser in an Aug. 5 letter.

Aunt Betty’s Recycled Books is located at 330 Broadway in downtown Eagle, and may be reached at 328-1340. In addition to regular hours, the store will be open on Sundays during the Christmas shopping season.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.