Free Reading

I think I was driving through Montclair, New Jersey when I first noticed one.  A “little free library” in someone’s front yard.  Then I began to notice them around elsewhere.  Neat little outdoor kiosks filled with books.  Despite my love of literacy I’m not inclined to take books from such places.  For one thing my reading tastes are odd, and for another I want other people to catch the interest in reading.  And “free” is a great motivator.  The idea is simple: set up a little free library on your property, seed it with books, and watch it work.  People are encouraged to take what’s there for free.  And leave books they want to donate, if so inclined.  Now that we’re in Pennsylvania we discovered one in a nearby park.  A community feels more homey with books.

Searching for the concept online, I came to  I’m not sure if they started the trend, but it provides the basic idea.  They even have plans for how to build your own and get your neighborhood reading.  If anyone wants a clue for making America great, here’s a free hint: it will involve books.  They’re a commodity unlike any other.  Mass-produced (often too enthusiastically so) they are generally inexpensive and can be used over and over again.  One of the biggest headaches for publishers is the used book market—since a book is a handful of ideas, once they’re released they’re difficult to control.  They can be sold again for less than market value, and yes, even given away.  Those who read see the value in giveaways, even if there’s no personal profit in it.

Early in our tenure here we decided to take a book to donate each time we go to the park.  Sometimes we forget, of course.  Our first donation was there for two weeks, but then found a new home.  A strange kind of joy accompanied finding the book gone.  Perhaps we’d done some good simply by opening a door and leaving something we were no longer using.  Then something unexpected happened—I saw a book from my reading list in the local.  Should I take it?  I have a list of books to seek in used bookstores, for, to the chagrin of my own industry, I participate in the used book market.  I had been looking for this tome for a few years, reluctant to pay full market value since it has been around since the sixties.  In the end I couldn’t resist.  Next week, I told myself, I’ll take two books to give back.  Literacy’s that way—it’s something even introverts can share.

5 thoughts on “Free Reading

  1. Jeremiah Andrews

    Hey Steve,

    Here in Montreal, we have what are called book fairies. There is a long running program called: “Livres dans le metro” in French, translates to “Books on the Metro (read: Subway).” There is a website for the person who started the program. People take books, and quietly leave them on metro cars, for people to pick up and hopefully, read. Each book comes with a sticker for the program and a note from the book fairies about why they left, each book for someone to pick up and read.

    We don’t see book kiosks in the city here, as the book market is tightly controlled, by the book monopoly. When I first moved to Montreal, there were tons of book sellers, both mainstream and independent. Over those first years, all the small shops were shut down, opting for the larger mass market book sellers. Second hand book sellers, and even book buy program shops, were plentiful. Now they are all but gone, however, here and there, there are those small mom and pop book shops in the more trendy neighborhoods.

    To the extent that book selling is tightly controlled, we used to be able to get the odd one off, or obscure books from other places, nowadays, book sellers do not cater to the odd reader, by way of book genres. When I lived in the states, my local Barnes and Noble had a couple of obscure book sections in their shop, where I used to buy books. I have an entire collection of obscure titles, that you cannot get anywhere, any longer.

    In my library, I have books that I trade with my friends. They read a book, and then either trade for others to read, or we just swap books between us. Right now we have what is called a book circle running. A friend in the group will pick up a book and read it, then toss it into the reading circle, where the rest of us pick up copies of said books, and read them ourselves, then we have a book discussion get together. Right now, the group I am in have completed a book series of several books. We have eight people in the small group right now. Each of us pick a book and consume it, then toss it into the circle for others to read, and so on.

    The Spirituality of Imperfection, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Guns Germs and Steel, 12 concepts for life, by Jordan Peterson, and several other political books, like James Comey and James Clapper, Bob Woodward, and Seymour Hersh. I just finished “Reporter” by Seymour Hersh last night, that was a good read. Now I am into Bob Woodward’s, Fear, Trump in the White House.

    Reading is fundamental in my reading circle. My nightly routine, for many, many years now, is that I devote at least an hour before bed, to just read, quietly before I go to sleep each night, It’s a practice I cultivated when I first got sober, to quiet my mind before going to bed. It has proven to be very beneficial.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jeremy. I too am a nighttime reader. I have trouble falling asleep if I don’t read a while first. Lately my problem has been that’s become my only reading time! I knew when I stopped commuting that much of my reading time would be compromised. I’m starting to introduce it again slowly, but housework and yard work are a bit less forgiving than I supposed.

      Much of the book market has gone to Amazon. This hasn’t been good for bookstores, but the number of people reading books tends to hold steady. The places they get books tends to change, but the reading itself remains a constant. Amazon has made finding obscure titles somewhat easier, but the beauty of bookstores is the ability to browse.


    • Ironically, I find myself taking a book from our local one every once in a while. We try to drop off one or two books every week, but I sometimes find one that fits my peculiar reading tastes. I love these places!


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