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'Saying goodbye to old friends': Man, dying from cancer, donates 2,000 books to library

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“I forgot one,” says Jim Fischer, reaching for a book on a cluttered bookshelf.

Those who know about Jim Fischer’s love for books can understand how maybe he would forget about one. Over the years, this retired veteran, who served in the military for nearly 30 years, gathered plenty of them—his collection contains two thousand books.

“To me, they’re an escape,” Fischer says. “It was never a conscious effort, they just kind of accumulated.”

His love for the books started at birth.

“When I was born, I was given a set of encyclopedias, and I couldn’t reach them. I had to grow to get them," Fischer says.

While Jim would read anything, including the side of a cereal box, there are two types of books that peak his interest—books about World War II ("the stuff I learned was amazing," he says) and science fiction.

“Hop on the comet, poof, another planet, another world.”

But now Jim’s life work, his book collection, is going “poof.”

“It’s just going to be different; kind of like saying goodbye to old friends. That’s the best way to put it,” he says.

Box by box, Jim’s entire book collection was piled into a pickup truck and delivered to the Campbell Library in East Grand Forks, one of the largest donations they have ever received.

“If one person benefits, I think I won. I don’t know any other way to put it. I don’t want them to end up in the garbage,” he says.

“When we get donations from a person who has actually read most of the materials, it means a lot more to the library, because they were chosen because they were actually good books to read,” says Charlotte Helgeson, Campbell Library librarian.

You see, Fischer no longer needs the books. After 46 years of smoking, Jim is dying of lung cancer—he’s just 65 years old.

“That was a nice way of saying, ‘You’re going to die,’” Fischer says. “I have no one to blame but myself. I knew the effects of smoking. I thought, ‘That’s everybody else, not me.'"

Fischer thought he would spend hours reading during retirement. Instead, that time is spent undergoing hours of chemotherapy, often too drained to pick up a book.

“The feel, the smell—holding a book is an experience. And when they’re brand new, oh wow, they just smell so cool,” he says.

So, as the book on Jim Fischer’s life nears the final chapter, he closes his eyes and tries to imagine who will enjoy the books as much as he did.

“I’d like to see it be like that train, where one person picks up a book and a couple years later, 30 people are infected with reading. I think that would be the coolest thing I could ever wish for. I won’t see it, but I will hope for it anyway," Fischer says.

After giving the books a final pat, he was ready to leave the boxes at the library.

“Gives me a nice feeling. They’re safe, and they’ll be appreciated. Right guys?”

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