'Tis the season: the season of lights and decorations, the season of too much food, too much drink, too much hustle bustle, too much, too much.

'Tis also the season of giving: giving donations and time to favorite charities, giving gifts to family, friends, clients, employers and staff, even giving randomly to strangers. Some north Baltimore residents this season are giving the gift of books to strangers.


Prolific, award-winning Baltimore writer Madison Smartt Bell has written a collection of short stories, "Zig Zag Wanderer," published by Concord Free Press. Concord Free Press is just that: free. The writers give their writing. The books are free. The staff works for free. The Concord website states, "We're not proposing free books as a cure for what ails modern publishing. That would be stupid … We don't think all books should be free — just ours."

Bell, a National Book Award finalist and author of more than 20 commercially published books, says he is publishing with the nonprofit Concord because, "It's a good cause and I've always been simpatico with its mastermind, Stona Fitch. Also, publishing is going through a rather painful paradigm shift right now, and I like having my hologram appear in as many paradigms as possible."

Bell, a Pinehurst resident, signs free copies of "Zig Zag Wanderer" at the Ivy Bookshop Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Concord Press asks those who receive free copies to consider contributing to a charity or to someone in need and passing the book along. By passing the book to others, readers can then prompt more charitable contributions.

Since its beginnings in 2008, Concord says its books have generated $352,275 in donations around the world. Those who receive a book can fill in a form online, saying how much and where they contribute. Concord's motto is, "Free their books, and their minds will follow."

Giving begets giving.

Another nonprofit, Little Free Libraries, seems to believe the same. A recent Baltimore Sun article prompted my interest, and that of my former editor and Roland Park neighbor Laura Wexler, into having a Little Free Library nearby. These small waterproof libraries are about the size of a mailbox on a post.

"Take a book. Return a book," is the motto of this nonprofit. Installed around the world, Little Free Libraries has a "branch" outside the Village Learning Place in Charles Village. Wexler and I hope our first will be at Linkwood Park in early spring, with the second by a bench on the Stony Run trail. The Roland Park Community Foundation is contributing to construction costs. Final details are being worked out with Baltimore City.

Longtime Children's Bookstore owner and Mount Washington resident JoAnn Fruchtman has been giving away quality books for more than a decade. Through her nonprofit foundation, the Children's Bookstore Educational Foundation, Fruchtman has given away $600,000 worth of books to Baltimore City students. These books go into students' hands via their teachers, who apply for books to enhance their lessons

The books are not textbooks, Fruchtman emphasizes.

"The object is to give reading books, books that they will read with their teachers. ... I want them to have some meaning," she says.

And because north Baltimore resident and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed to make a municipal warehouse available for temporary storage of thousands of books gathered by the American Federation of Teachers, Baltimore City school teachers will soon receive 160,000 books to give to their students. These books come via First Book, a nonprofit based in Washington, supported by the federation and, according to its website, the distributor of an average of 35,000 free books each day.

That is a lot of giving.

Now to find some peace and quiet, and time to read by ourselves and with children, our own and others.