Real Life Heroes Changing the world

I have always been fascinated by the real life heroes vs reel life heroes. It feels quite awkward (rather sickening!) when I see people and media talking and hyping the tv and big screen so called celebrities more than required when they are just doing their job for a living like billions of other human beings. Their common acts like the food they eat, the clothes they wear, or even their personal lives occupy sections of magazines and newspapers and sometimes become a topic of debate among the young generation. Isn’t that the waste of human energy and time? Isn’t that in-appropriate and ir-responsible usage of technology? I strongly opine that people who are doing the real stuff for betterment of society, who are contributing day-by-day, silently, and most humbly to make this human experience of fellow human beings heavenly should be celebrated more often. 
My dear friends, today I present to you insights from one of the most generous, kind, compassionate, ever giving, pure-hearted soul Anthony Olszewski, founder of Jersey City Free books.  Jersey City Free books located at 297 Griffith Street, Jersey City is a community book exchange that provides books to read absolutely free of cost, without any obligation, registration or any sort of indoctrination. And please don’t get caught by the word ‘exchange’, you don’t have to give some to get some, you simply have to go, select the book of your choice from available books and take it with you, there is absolutely no obligation of returning or penalty as you have in libraries. You may keep it for your future reference or share it with friends and family for their benefit.
Anthony Olszewski, Founder of Jersey City Free Books
Since times immemorial, bookshave changed the world. Be it the likes of Bhagvad Geeta, the holy Bible, the holy Quran, or the Republic by Plato (written in the 4th century BCE) or even the Meditations by Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (written in 161-180 CE) had a lasting impact on the people across several centuries. Books undeniably play a critical role in the upliftment of society. Through this easy availability of books to one and all without any prejudice, Jersey City free books is doing an awesome service to the society. Be it the Mothers who come seeking children’s books (and even the cookbook), elderly citizens looking out for their favorite mysteries, philosophical genre books, or the teenagers and students who flock searching for romance, fiction, and fantasies books, thousands of people have benefited from this charitable, big-hearted initiative from Anthony. 
Recently I got the opportunity to spend some time with Anthony at Jersey City Free Books. Here is the excerpts from the interview:
Narendra Gupta (NG):  I would like to say a big and a heartfelt thank you for what you are doing to this community and for your act of selfless living and giving.  Sir, please tell me something about your life?

Anthony Olszewski (AO):  I was born in Margaret Hague Maternity hospital, Jersey City in the year 1956. I have lived almost my entire life in Jersey City, in fact a few blocks away from the shop. Jersey City in the world has changed a lot since then, in many ways for the better and in some ways for not. People are a lot more educated but they do not seem to think as deeply and empathetically as people used to, even those with very little education.

NG:What is your vision for life? How would you describe your mission for life?
AO:  For my life, I like to think at the end of every day that something is being accomplished. Every day is being productive and worthwhile. That’s as far as I see.
I had set plenty of goals for myself and I accomplished most of them. I graduated, bought a house on the block, I put myself in school raising cage birds believe it or not, and years ago I published many articles on that subject (canaries in particular) including a chapter on genetics in veterinary textbooks, I have been involved with many projects – like I was a website editor, even worked on political campaigns – some of them were successful and some not.
NG: What are your top values for life?
AO: I try to have a set of rules that I go by. Just a small thing, a few years ago, I was opening up the shop here and there was a wallet out front. Somebody had dropped his wallet.  It had $300 some dollars. I had to go through the wallet to find the identity. There was a set of phone numbers and I called them all, Somehow I found that the guy was getting a haircut in a saloon nearby. The guy was offering me $20 but I refused that. I was mentioning this to people and most people said why didn’t I keep the wallet, and a few people said why didn’t I take those $20 dollars. I knew that wasn’t my money and this is what I should do. I don’t see why I should be paid for something that I was supposed to do, or even get a tip for something that I was supposed to do as a human being.

I try to think what I am responsible for. Small thing, when there is snowfall, I just make sure that I get out and wipe the snow outside the shop, on the road and nearby area. These are some of the common things that nobody thinks of but just strikes to me. So many people are having inconvenience but no one thinks about it.

NG:Sir, What is it that concerns you?
AO: One thing that is striking me more and more is that people in general are prone to distractions and confusion. Going back to when I was growing up, it was a common thing that many of the adults especially during times of depression had dropped off from the grammar school. They didn’t have enough money to feed their family so they opted to go out to work. But the same people at the time of election, they thought about the candidates on the right parameters, I remember them talking what did that particular candidate do when he was in senate, what was his position on labor and so on, I mean these are the people who had very little education but they thought, but today even the people with all kinds of education and advanced degrees, when elections are around keep complaining for example they say things like – they don’t like the candidate because they don’t like the way his wife dresses. They will talk about the movie stars. People are increasingly becoming distracted and confused; I think they are not reading is also one of the big causes.
NG: Sir, do you feel inappropriate usage of technology has played a role in those distractions?
AO: Yes, I do. There is obviously tremendous advantage (due) to technology.  It is very much like the difference between walking, riding a bicycle and driving a car. These things have an effect on the person himself.  If somebody walks or even rides a bicycle 5 miles a day, he is going to be a very different person than someone who drives a car 5 miles a day.

Of course the experience is going to be different if somebody is walking 5 miles a day, they are thinking, they are seeing what’s going on around them, experiencing the nature and people where as the person driving the car, all they see is the car in front of them if not texting and driving at the same time.
NG: How did the idea of free books store came to your mind?
AO: There was a bagel store at Central Avenue and in 2007 unrelated to the books there was a fire. Late in 2007 the store was closed for a long time. Late in 2007 new owners took over. They decided not to continue with the free rack of books they had in the store there. Early in 2008 I started it. For many years 5 years or so there was just a single shelf here. I don’t know exactly why but 3 years ago, a lot of people started bringing in a lot of books and this way the store expanded.
NG: Did it ever occur to you that you should charge some bare minimum amount for a book? (Because you are spending so much time and energy doing and maintaining all stuff)?
AO:  No. The whole point of this is to reach to as many people as I could.  There are plenty of generous people out there who have really donated. These are the people who have actually made the place possible and whom we should thank. They bring books for whatever reason like they are moving or have limited space at home and so on. There are a number of people who regularly bring books, they are regular readers but live in small apartments with limited book shelves. They bring the books here so that other people can use them.
Many reasons books become available for other people to use. You know there are all sorts of book in the garage, underneath the bed, some people have book in their trunks, they are not doing anybody good but when they come here they do good to a lot of people. There is no way I should think about charging. Some people get perks that they may not be able to afford these books at all. The mystery thrillers, romance, these books are not cheap anymore, these books cost 5,6,7,8 dollars, I don’t know how many senior citizens come here and pick up one or two or more of the books that these people could not afford every week. Well some people say they could go to the library, certainly they could go to library; library is very good, but it’s not the same thing. I have hundreds of different titles, yes they read but they don’t have to worry about bringing it back. They can even give it to their friends or to other residents.

As soon as you start charging, there are places where people raise money. Yes, they raise money to do something good however in terms of reading; but in terms of the reader, the person who doesn’t have that money has no access to reading that book.  Even if you are selling the book for a quarter, somebody who has to pay his electric and gas bill at the end of the month has no money they can’t get that book where as someone who has money has a bargain now. There are a plenty of people who don’t have even a quarter, like people with small kids, they may not want to spend on even a quarter because they have to spend on clothes, shoes and many other essentials. They may not want to spend on books.

NG:  Sir, Do you have any plans to extend free books store to other parts of city or country

AO:Well it’s something that I might do but don’t have any immediate plans.

NG: How do you feel when you see people benefiting from your services?
AO:I am very glad, there was a gentleman stopping by here and getting books for his little daughter every week. One day he came along with his daughter and happily informed she had gotten an award for the best reader in class. He stopped by to say a Thank you. He thanked me saying that a source of free books made the little student’s achievement possible.

There are many people who just would not have books at all. When I was growing up in Jersey City, believe it or not there was a tropical fish magazine and published here in New Jersey just by chance. In almost every issue there were articles about people traveling to different parts of the world, collecting tropical fish out in the jungle. I just hope to some degree that it gives chance to everybody to think, to imagine that things can be different.

NG:Sir, please share one of the most enduring moments of your life?

AO: There are a number of different things. I was bitten by a bat with rabies when I was only in the 3rd grade. Doctors had told my Parents that I was going to die. Well no one told me anything, so I fooled them all.

Onetime I almost drowned. Irresponsibly I went out to a beach early in the morning before the life guards were on duty and got pulled out by a current. Luckily somebody who is a good swimmer heard me yelling and came to rescue me but I came very close to drowning.  Anyhow I hesitate, I don’t like taking chances, I try to think what is the risk involved, For example  I see people putting something that may slip, they say I am putting only for a second, and I say don’t put even for a second, put it over here.
NG:  Sir, What is the happiest moment you recall in your life?
AO: O’boy there are plenty. That would be hard to say. You know many times things, the projects I worked on, at one time they were very successful and at another point they failed. I have to look everything. There are highs and there are lows, you can’t take either of them seriously.

NG:  Sir, what makes you angry and sad?
AO: Couple of years ago I was regularly riding bicycle on the Washington bridge. It’s one of the most amazing views in the world, when you look down you see the whole New York City and on the right, you see the Jersey City palisades. It’s somewhat dangerous especially when you are riding on a bicycle; on the right hand side you have got the draft of the river and on the left hand side there is a plenty of traffic, and also it is not very wide. So somebody who is coming on a bicycle from two different directions actually has to be very careful. 

Anyhow one day I was riding, a guy was coming from another direction on the George Washington Bridge, walking and texting. It is just thoughtlessness.  Now this is one of the most amazing places in the world and this guy is looking at this small screen. Also he is putting his own life at risk, my life at risk. That thoughtlessness is something that makes me angry.

Another common thing I just see, people crossing the street, either would be not looking at all, how no body is killed on this corner alone, I have seen cars riding into the people, luckily no person is being hit. Another time, when people are crossing street, someone driving the car would intentionally keep coming towards them to get them move, to scare them. Pure irresponsibility and thoughtlessness! When I was growing up there were people who were not nice at all but they used to think, they wouldn’t do something like this.
Climate change is another big thing that I am concerned about. 
NG:What makes you hopeful and happy?
AO:  There many big advances in healthcare. The level of healthcare that anybody has access to as compared to when I was growing up has developed a lot. In those times even the wealthy people who would have heart attacks, would just die or would cripple for the whole of their lives. But now there are all sorts of treatments and transplants.  The germs have been basically conquered. We have antibiotics; we have vaccines getting to the rest of the world.

The economic conditions have also improved, in earlier times people used to have at most a TV and a refrigerator in house but now there are many gadgets now. Technological advances and economic progress is something I cheer about. 

NG:  Sir, You are already changing the world in one way, but if you could get some additional power to change the world what would you do?
AO: I look at the things with a very limited perspective; I wish I would have a wider perspective.  Two things that I complain to the city about is: I have been bicycling since I was in 2nd grade, in the street I complained about people riding bicycle on the side of the walking trail, right after pedestrians. The other thing is the litter. Why we have litter here? These are two minor, actually silly things. Because they are minor things that could be easily done. 
NG:  What actions do you think would best cause the change you envision?
AO: The old IBM says ‘Think‘. The point of that isn’t just sit at someplace and do not do anything, the point isn’t just sit and imagine the chess moves;  the point of that is consider the consequences of your actions, of your moves. Think because of your move what is going to happen next.

We have got many problems with people eating very poorly, if they consider the consequences of their actions, tomorrow, next week, forty years from now, not just immediately.  If I am drinking a big bottle of soda, what’s going to happen tomorrow, the day after, in a month’s time. People should also think on these lines and for themselves.

NG: What changes do you believe would make the world a beautiful place?

AO:  Right here in Jersey City people don’t think the consequences of their action, people here in the boulevard drive playing the radio loud, I don’t care what kind of music you like; most people may have a different taste, why can’t people use their headphones.

Litter is another thing here. May be, it all comes down to people don’t think much of themselves, they are not going to think about anybody that much, they are holding at a very low standard.
NG: What is SUCCESS for you?  
AO:  O’ boy again, I wish I actually had a wider perspective. I see at the end of everyday what went good and what not so good, what could be improved.
Every single person falls asleep at night and wakes up in the morning. I don’t think somebody owning 5 Rolls-Royces, I don’ think their experience is different; everybody has to die one day. Steve Jobs left the world defining success in a different way.  There is some degree of physical and mental inter-dependence.
Bernard Madoff (former stockbroker, investment advisor and financier), the person who conned people around the world and he is in jail for life.  He took the definitions of success that’s most common. He owned homes all around the world. It nice to travel around the world. It’s okay having home in a couple of locations, but why in the world someone wants to have a dozen (of) mansions across the world? You have to worry about getting it painted or you have to pay somebody to take care of the house.
NG: What is your perspective on birth and death? Are you afraid of death?
AO:  You have to be. I mean you don’t want to be foolhardy. Many people I grow up with actually they were not afraid of death and they are gone. The point is, I hope at that moment I could think I did accomplish something before i die.

Any number of their ancestors who did carry water during the drought, who did go out there and plough that field, who did get up in the morning early and feed the animals, in the human history people couldn’t waste their lives, Life is so precious and should be used for a worthwhile purpose. 

NG: What legacy you want to leave to this world?
AO: You look history how many people from thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand years are remembered.  Every single person on the planet has to have ancestors who experienced something remarkable. You think that the families couldn’t forget these things. One of our ancestors who was actually a laborer worked for building up this city. Not many are remembered. I am not really worried about being remembered.
NG: Amazing perspective. Thank you so much for your precious time and sharing your pearls of wisdom.

AO:You are most welcome and thank you for coming. 
A selfie with Anthony Sir
Giving is like a flowing river, you can only gain from its clean water.  Anthony Olszewski is an epitome of giving. I salute Anthony and all such human beings for their selfless acts of Living and Giving. If you are living in near by New York and Jersey City area please do benefit from the store located at 297 Griffith Street, Jersey City.
For more information please visit
For personal responses, you can write to Anthony at: or

And yes, please don’t forget like the facebook community page at:
How did you like today’s post? Did it inspire you to do something good in society? Whatever and how small it may be like planting a tree, driving with caution, thinking about other’s safety and well-being, donating blood, helping an elderly citizen in crossing street, passing a warm smile to a stranger, I don’t know whatever it may be, just keep doing things that you can in your capacity because good things come in small packages. My Best Wishes, God Bless Humanity.
One Life!
Narendra Gupta