I recently read a political op-ed in The Atlantic comparing two candidates for public office. Avoiding details as to who, what, etc. (betcha can’t figure it out), one paragraph of absolute shred had a sting in the tail that sunk deep – as it would – on this bookstore employee: “…he appears not to read.”
How is it that there are people who don’t read? I don’t get it. It’s such a deeply human thing and beneficial on so many levels – not to mention that we live in an era where books are incredibly cheap and ubiquitous. (It wasn’t always so.) Acknowledging that some folks slip through the cracks of literacy, how does this happen?
It’s possible it has something to do with timing and access. Of course, we get books at school (again, acknowledging that some schools do not have the books they need), and for some of us, that’s enough. For others, well, it’s school. “I have to read at school, but when I’m done, I’m done – and that’s the only place I see books, so… meh.” Bummer.
What if books showed up in other contexts, unlooked for? I did a whole series this Summer about what a huge impact Happy Meals, which included Moby Illustrated Classics, had on me. I was 8, on summer vacay – and boom – a fistful of french fries and a greasy Time Machine. Changed my life.
There are probably a ton of great ideas on how to Trojan-horse reading into someone’s life – and no, they don’t have to still be a kid. A favorite is the famous Little Free Library. These are small collections of books kept in what looks like a little birdhouse, set up in a public place. The kind of object you’d see from across the street and think “What the hell is that?” – and boom – Gotcha. Folks can swap books out for free. (It would be great if they also had french fries.) You’re reading a bookstore blog, so I’m betting you already know about these. Have you ever thought about making one? Why not?
Here’s your opportunity to do something fun, challenging and possibly world-changing: Chronicle Books’ “Little Free Library Design Competition“. Yes, Chronicle Books, publishers of such gems as Super Graphic and the upcoming Loving Vs. Virginia, has teamed up with the LFL organization for this very cool project. There are several categories to win, but prizes include things like an architecture library from Chronicle and/or having your design replicated as Little Libraries all over the place. You don’t actually have to design from scratch either, if you don’t care about the contest itself. Check out the LFL website above – use one of their designs. I suppose you could start smallish, even. I used to live in a building with a common laundromat, and without even discussing it, someone left a stack of books in there, and folks started trading: leave a few, take a few.
You can go big or small with this idea, but get on it – maybe with some friends, maybe with your kids. By participating in this genius movement, you are changing your community in ways you might never see. It’s a long term strategy for creating a country where you won’t find candidates for important leadership positions who don’t read books. Okay, yes, it’s one small step, but so was putting the classics in Happy Meals, when they could’ve included crappy plastic toys instead. Just get that stack of books out there in a spot that’ll catch the indifferent by surprise.