How to get 300x return on your money

On this Black Friday 2010, as people around the country (world?) are doing their part to boost the economy, I’d like to offer a deal that beats anything else you’ll find. I don’t care whether you were in one of those Wal-Mart lines at 4am this morning or, for that matter, if you were a CDO salesman in the spring of 2007. The deal: a library card from your local library.  

Although I refer to myself as hailing from Austin, Texas, we don’t actually live in the city limits. We live in a separately incorporated city (Rollingwood) that is surrounded by Austin. Therefore, years ago, our community created its own library district that, since an overwhelmingly affirmative vote in 1998, apportioned half a percent of the 8.5% sales tax collected from the district to the library.

If you were to figure our family spent $25,000 per on eating out, clothes, dry goods, home furnishings, etc. etc… then that would come out to our annual share to the library being about $10 ($25,000 x .085 x .005).

Since library cards are free for people like us who live in the district and, as the photo of my most recent check-out receipt shows, we have checked out $3,382 of books and DVDs so far this year, we have gotten a return of well over 300 times on our money.

Even if you decide to value the books and movies that we checked out at 20% of their retail value (instead of $25 new, call it $5 used), we’re still making 60 times on our money.

Granted, our family may be a little bit out of the ordinary, with the amount we read. The present guesstimate is that the average American reads anywhere between 9 and 15 books per year. My gut tells me that the average Austin-ite is higher than that although, sadly, a 2007 Washington Post article claimed that nearly 25% of Americans don’t read a single book in a year.

In any event, if you are looking for deal – and who isn’t! – then a library card is a sure bet. And what did we get for our money? For your list-comparing pleasure, our check-out list from January through November (Title, Author) is provided below, with favorites highlighted in bold green.


  • The Return, Bolano
  • Lost: a novel, Maguirre
  • Fame: a novel in nine episodes, Kehlmann
  • Swan: poems and prose poems, Oliver
  • Solar: a novel, McEwan
  • Nothing happened and then it did: a chronicle in fact and fiction, Silverstein
  • The Penelopiad: the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, Atwood
  • Ilustrado, Syjuco
  • The Alchemist: a fable about following your dream, Coelho
  • The tent, Atwood
  • Point Omega: a novel, DeLillo
  • The Ask, Lipsyte
  • The Unnamed, Ferris
  • The Infinities, Banville
  • Nocturnes: five stories of music and nightfall, Ishiguro
  • Life among the Lutherans, Keillor
  • The white tiger: a novel, Adiga
  • Summertime, Coetzee
  • The Kingdom of Ohio, Flaming
  • Atlas Shrugged, Rand
  • Good poems, Keillor


  • The grand design, Hawking
  • Overhaul: an insider’s account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry, Rattner
  • Hail, hail, euphoria!: presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made, Blount, Jr.
  • What technology wants, Kelly
  • The mind’s eye, Sacks
  • Cognitive surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age, Shirky
  • Common as air: revolution, art, and ownership, Hyde
  • The ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the darkest hour of the Roman Republic, O’Connell
  • Glimmer: how design can transform your life, your business, and maybe even the world, Berger
  • Superfreakonomics: global cooling, patriotic prostitutes, and why suicide bombers should be life insurance, Levitt
  • The Pythagorean theorem: a 4000 year history, Maor
  • I’ll mature when I’m dead, Barry
  • Art: over 2,500 works from cave to contemporary
  • The myths of innovation, Berkun
  • Wired for war: the robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century, Singer
  • Encyclopedia of flowers
  • The singularity is near, Kurzweil
  • What the dog saw and other adventures, Gladwell
  • Witness for justice: the documentary photographs of Alan Pogue Bill and Alice Wright
  • Joan Miro, 1893-1983: the man and his work     
  • A new kind of Christianity: ten questions that are transforming the faith, McLaren
  • Total recall: how the E-memory revolution will change everything, Bell
  • A people’s history of Christianity: the other side of the story, Bass
  • You are not a gadget, Lanier
  • Remember how I love you, Orbach
  • We feel fine: an almanac of human emotion, Kamvar
  • The value of nothing: how to reshape market society and redefine democracy, Patel
  • Losing Mum and Pup: a memoir, Buckley
  • Woodstock: three days that rocked the world, Evans
  • The glass castle: a memoir, Walls
  • The long snapper: a second chance, a Super Bowl, a lesson for life, Marx
  • The purpose-driven life, Warren
  • Gorgeous leather crafts: 30 projects to stamp, stencil, weave and tool, Lee
  • Texas gardener’s guide to growing tomatoes, Rundell
  • Teach yourself electricity and electronics, Gibilisco
  • Organic gardening for the 21st century: a complete guide to growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, Fedor
  • Casting for crafters, Browning
  • Handcrafted soap, Boone
  • Yard & garden basics, Ball
  • Complete massage: a visual guide to over 100 techniques, Maxwell-Hudson
  • The boy who loved music, Lasker
  • Meditation and relaxation in plain English, Sharples
  • Fabric dyeing for beginners, McClure
  • The new how things work
  • Digital video hacks, Paul     
  • The filmmaker’s handbook: a comprehensive guide for the digital age, Ascher
  • The last song, Sparks
  • Moon River and me: a memoir, Williams
  • Living history, Clinton


  • Alice in Wonderland: a film by Tim Burton
  • Amadeus: director’s cut
  • Being John Malkovich
  • The Blind side
  • Blindness
  • The Book of Eli
  • Bottle rocket
  • City of ember
  • Clockwork orange: 2-disc special edition
  • The Curious case of Benjamin Button
  • The Darjeeling Limited
  • Death of a salesman
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
  • Gran Torino
  • High fidelity
  • The Hurt locker
  • Into the wild
  • Kick-ass
  • Knocked up
  • Lost in translation
  • Me and you and everyone we know
  • Metallica: some kind of monster
  • The Namesake
  • Neil Young: heart of gold
  • Network
  • Run, fatboy, run
  • Scrooge
  • Slacker
  • Slumdog millionaire
  • Step Brothers
  • Terminator salvation
  • Tropic thunder
  • Up in the air
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Zombieland

One closing comment: Jesse Eisenberg may play a spot-on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but for my money, Zombieland was more entertaining!

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