I’m drawn, of course, to the three little free libraries in my neighbourhood. They’re waterproof cabinets in public places filled with books; anyone can come and take one with the hope they’ll leave one too. There’s one in my local park, just a hundred metres from my house, and it gives me an extra thing to look forward to when I take Thomas to the playground there. I’m always hoping to find a book I would love to read, and I’m pleased when I have a good book to leave, but as much as these things, I’m also ready to be intrigued and horrified by the books I would never read and the things they say about local reading habits and the economics of free things.

I’ve been amazed by the generosity and fine taste in books of one reader. (I’m assuming I can pick the taste of this one mythical reader, who may actually be several people. But I do feel certain.) This reader specialises in contemporary American literature and leaves recent releases in good condition for others to enjoy. Thanks to them, I’ve read two books I wouldn’t have read otherwise – The Folded Clock: A Diary (2015) by Heidi Julavits and Him Her Him Again The End of Him (2007) by Patricia Marx. (Both intrigued me from their opening pages and both disappointed me by the end, but I don’t regret reading them.) The mythical reader also left a copy of Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) by George Saunders which sits accusingly unread on my temporary holding shelf of new acquisitions. (I feel a duty to read and return, even without an overdue email arriving from the library!)

This mythical reader inspires me by their fundamental belief in the other users of the little free library. They are not put off sharing their fine books by worries that an unscrupulous person will grab them to resell on eBay or that they will go to an unappreciative reader who just likes free books. They believe in humanity and inspire us all to bring out our best!

Of course, not everyone brings out their best.

Little free libraries encourage the hoarding, thrifty instincts of some who think no books should ever be thrown out, even if it’s hard to imagine a reader for them. I believe in a diversity of books, but that doesn’t mean all books belong in the little free library. Over-represented genres in my local little free libraries are fad diets and (aged) celebrity biographies. I took this photograph the other week because I thought it the funniest book I had yet seen in the little free library: volume one of the Collier’s Encyclopedia. It’s actually not the worst thing to leave; if I was hanging around, I could foreseeably browse it and learn all sorts of interesting things about the state of knowledge in the early 1990s on topics starting with A. Other items I have seen in the free little libraries:

  • A 1980s paperback on repairing VCRs, well read, the spine reinforced with red tape.
  • Psychology textbooks from the early years of the century.
  • A sodden Harry Potter, literally dripping.
  • Unused greetings cards, circa 1990s.
  • Ellen White’s The Great Controversy (Seventh Day Adventist), Jehovah’s Witnesses material, Buddhist pamphlets, and evangelical fiction. (Note to people wanting to leave religious material: I recommend you put forward your best writers, and no that’s not Tim La Haye.)

The little free libraries of Victoria Park – and around the world – have brought books into public places. It’s a beautiful exchange of ideas and stories. I thank the Town of Victoria Park for supporting the program and the anonymous stewards, whom I hope to meet some time.

Saturday 10am #10