Suspend Your Disbelief

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The Books People Steal

bukowskiAbbie Hoffman would be proud.


In Harvard Bookstore, one of my favorite local indie bookstores, there’s a small, unobtrusive sign on the fiction shelf. For books by Bukowski and Kerouac, it says, please ask at the register. I couldn’t figure out why and finally asked one of the staff. “People tend to steal them,” she explained bluntly.

As a horrible goody-two-shoes, the idea of stealing a book had never occurred to me. (And really? Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac? Okay, I do live in Cambridge.) In the New York Times, novelist Margo Rabb investigates the most-stolen books at independent bookstores across the country:

Fiction is the most commonly poached genre at St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village of Manhattan; the titles that continually disappear are moved to the X-Case, safely ensconced behind the counter. This library of temptation includes books by Martin Amis, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo and Jack Kerouac, among others. Sometimes the staff isn’t sure whether an author is still popular to swipe until they return their books to the main floor. “Amis went out and came right back,” Michael Russo, the manager, told me.

Reasons for stealing range from a rite of passage to “hipness” to good old-fashioned inebriation. And gender seems to play a role, too: Rabb points out that most frequently stolen books tend to have male authors–and male thieves.

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