Is This Book Theft or Not?
Free Reads Go Missing
SUE’S DREAM: It seemed like a good, community-minded idea. Sue joined the growing national trend of small, front-yard free libraries.
You take a book to read and maybe replace it with another.
Sue, former Santa Barbara News-Press librarian, joined with her brother, Pete, to use scrap wood to build an eye-catching table out front by the curb, within easy reach.
Too easy, it turned out.
Each morning, Sue, usually with my help, would lug out three or four heavy bags of books. All kinds, from kids’ reading to popular fiction. Soft covers and hard.
Late each afternoon, we’d lug them back. At first, we got little “business.” We live on a one-block street in San Roque on the town’s Northside. Not a lot of traffic.
Sue put her idealistic heart into it. Her only goal: encouraging reading. She wasn’t selling them and, in fact, bought quite a few low-priced books or pulled them from our bookshelves.
A few were classics but mostly books she thought would catch the popular eye. There was no attempt at ideological propaganda or political reading.
But there was little action except from a few neighbors and the nice kids across the street.
As weeks passed, Sue refused to be discouraged. She had a community mission. Then one day a guy who was moving from another neighborhood asked if he could bring over some books. Okay, we said. The more the merrier.
Then he showed up with what we estimated as 200 pounds of books, not all books, by the way, but mostly consisting of arty nude photographs. Not porn as I would characterize porn, but what’s known as glamor nudes, showing the beauty of the feminine form, what painters over the centuries have filled museums with.
Sue and I went through them. We looked at one another. First, we had no room. Second, we couldn’t see putting out so many nudes. They just seemed out of place in our yard. What the kids across the street might have thought of them, or their parents for that matter, I didn’t know and didn’t want to find out.
It wasn’t our job to expand their sex education. So we packed them back up and left them in Planned Parenthood’s trailer on the Eastside, washed our hands of them, and left the sorting out to them.
Then one day upon our return home, in broad daylight, we found that the bookshelves had been cleaned out. All the hardcover books were gone. Only a few semi-tattered Hillermans were left.
Who would do this, we wondered? We asked a few neighbors, who were shocked but hadn’t seen anyone shoveling books into a car. We figured it would have only taken a few minutes to hit and run.
The mystery remains. Who were they? Book lovers who took us up on the free part of the deal but ignored the other side of the equation, to take one or two and leave one or two? Were they worth taking to sell?
At this point, unless I hear from the perpetrators, I’m considering it theft. The question remains: Who would do this in Santa Barbara, citadel of all that is idealistic, upholding the finer values of Western Civilization? Or something.
It depressed Sue for a few days, but then she got her gumption up. They weren’t going to kill her spirit and desire to spread those written words to all who happened by, free. She’s a pure librarian to my mind.
Her book-reading friend Sandy came over with two huge boxes of books, and a neighbor mom and her children dropped off some reading for kids. So we’re back in business. Come on over to East Calle Crespis.
BROOKLYN RIDER: The four young men in this group put on a zesty, swing-y, foot-stomping, soaringly beautiful, sweetly nostalgic, classical kind of concert at Hahn Hall Thursday night. They topped it off with the world premiere of a piece co-commissioned by UCSB Arts & Lectures, “Ping Pong, Fumble Thaw.” Bravo!
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Written, directed, and produced by veteran Santa Barbara actor and theater renaissance man Rod Lathim, Unfinished Business is a moving experience of the spiritual transition from life to death — or whatever is on the Other Side. No one who left the Lobero Saturday night could help but feel the gentle easing, based on his mother’s “last day on the planet,” in Rod’s words.