Drive-by books

Updated: May 10, 2019

The face behind the books, Jason Valentine-Burt brings free reading to the 'hood

Avondale is home to a plethora of local heroes and none less so than Jason Valentine-Burt who runs the Free Books outlet outside his home in Victor Street.

While Jason has his own online book business, Valentine Books, he can spend near on 30 hours a week selling books for Variety – the Children’s Charity. This came to pass after the charity ceased its book fair fundraiser at Alexandra Park that Jason helped with. He offered to continue the fundraising by selling books year long through Trade Me and Fishpond. Now, some 5000 books are donated each week and Jason, with this help of his family, collects them, processes them, sell them online and donates books that won’t make a great return to locals by way of the Free Books boxes.

“It’s a cool charity,” says Jason, who is pleased to be in the position to be able to support it in this way. “They identify really specific needs for kids and are able to offer concrete support, rather than offering blanket support for groups where not everyone is in need.”

Jason grew up around books as his father managed a publishing company. He remembers spending school holidays, picking and packing orders as he does now.

“I met heaps of famous authors,” he says. “They would come to New Zealand for book tours and my father would accompany them around the country. At the end of the tour, they would come home for a nice family, suburban New Zealand dinner in little old Henderson and so I met all sorts of fascinating authors. Growing up in a house that had no shortage of books was fantastic.”

Surprisingly, while the bricks-and-mortar book stores have near-on met their demise, people are increasingly buying and reading books online, Jason reports, presumably because it is so much cheaper to do so. For a while, Kindles were having an effect on book sales, but that has reversed. “I can't see books every dying,” says Jason. “There's nothing like a proper book as far as I'm concerned and people want them in the same way they’re revisiting vinyl records.”

The free book boxes are put out each fine morning through to the end of the day and people are coming from across Auckland to make use of them. Books can also be donated – but please be sure to put them in the shed in the driveway – it’s important for Jason to check they are age-appropriate for the intermediate school kids that flock to the boxes each day.

Many residents will also know Jason from the widely read Avondale Community Facebook group that he began with friend, John Subritzky for which they are both administrators. The group is a great source of local and immediate news and a second wonderful service to our community.