I love Little Free Libraries.
If you don’t have these in your neighborhood, they are little boxes that look like tiny houses—not much larger than a big birdhouse—with a glass door on the front and books inside. People leave books they have read and pick up books they want to read and, somehow, the whole thing seems to work out pretty well most of the time.
During the pandemic, I noticed that some little libraries went empty. The regular libraries were closed, and people ran out of things to read. Then everyone started ordering books, and the little libraries had more than they could hold. I saw some stacked three books deep.
I walk by a free library every day, and I always check the inventory. Most of the time, my little library is modestly full, and the inventory seems to be constantly changing. I find a book I’ve never heard of before and read the first few pages, standing on the sidewalk, in front of someone’s house.
“Well, this looks like a lot of fun!” I’ll think. I stick it in my bag and take it home, knowing I could always return it if I don’t enjoy it—or even if I do.
But I usually do enjoy it. I discover a lot of books I would never have heard of otherwise. As I’m reading, I wonder who left the book there. I wonder if they enjoyed it as much as I am. I wonder how many people have read it. The free library doesn’t tell me. The free library keeps its secrets.
But cooler weather is coming, and people must be reading a little more, because it seems to be kind of slim pickings at my free library.
“Classroom Discipline: Guiding Adolescents to Responsible Independence” was one new offering the other day. Who is going to want to read that? I wondered.
The only person who would be interested would be a teacher, and do they really want to curl up after a hard day’s work and get more information on the topic? Unsurprisingly, when I checked several days later, the book was still there.
Next to it was an enormous tome entitled “The Reformation: A History.” The Reformation is certainly interesting, but this book had more than 700 pages. I’m thinking there’s a pretty small audience for half a million words on the Reformation.
“Frommer’s New England 1991” also seemed unlikely to go anywhere. I think if you’re planning a visit to New England, you might want to read something about either 1791, or the present day. It’s hard to believe many of the restaurants listed would still be around, and a hotel can change a lot in 31 years.
I started to feel bad for my Little Free Library. So I sorted through my bookshelf. I looked for books I had already read and enjoyed, and I made a small pile. The next day, I brought them to the free library and nestled them next to “New England 1991” and closed the little glass door behind me.
It felt good to leave some nice surprises for the next person who came to the library. I know there are people who keep every book they’ve ever read, and even more who keep every book they’ve especially enjoyed, but I am not one of them.
I like to set my books free after I’ve read them. I like sharing books with a stranger—and possibly preventing someone from having to learn more than they ever wanted to know about the Reformation.
Till next time,