At this stage of the game, I am much more likely to leave a book in a Little Free Library than I am to take one. I keep a sack of books on my front porch and, when I remember, grab a book to take with me on the dog walk. If I pass a Little Free Library (in my neighborhood it is hard not to), I open the door and pop the book inside.
Still, even empty-handed, I pause and take a look. I am always curious.
I love the architecture of these little libraries as much as I love their contents — some are painted to look like the house they sit in front of, others clearly have been handmade by children. I have seen a Little Free Library studded with beer caps, with a bottle opener for a door handle. (This was in Athens, Ga., a fine college town.)
I have seen one attached to the back of a bicycle. I have seen them in community gardens and outside of restaurants and schools and places of business. (A car repair shop in my neighborhood has one.)
Reader Teresa Opheim wrote me late last fall and asked if I had ever found any wonderful titles in a Little Free Library, and I had to stop and think. I don’t think I have — I am, after all, more about giving than taking these days.
But she has.
“They are such a wonderful way to find books,” Opheim wrote. “I just finished ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking’ by Colum McCann — absolutely wonderful. Graham Greene and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala are other authors I have revisited because of the little free libraries. I’m a lover of little free libraries in the Longfellow neighborhood (and the East Lake Library and Moon Palace Bookstore).”
Bev Bachel of Minneapolis is another huge fan of Little Free Libraries, especially the one she haunts in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. And that one is well worth haunting; the list she sent me of great finds went on in a delightful way.
She found books that were timely (the story behind all of Bob Dylan’s songs, which she discovered right after he won the Nobel Prize); books that were useful (one about hoarding at the time she was helping a friend deal with a hoarding parent); and books that mysteriously spoke to her, such as Ira Levin’s “A Kiss Before Dying.”
“I took this tired-looking, dated paperback book home once (it was originally published in 1953 and it looked like my copy was from that era), then put it back — unread,” she writes. “But when I saw it again a few weeks later, I took it home, telling myself I would read 20 pages, then return it if I didn’t like it. But it didn’t take 20 pages to hook me.
“The book is full of unexpected twists and turns, including one that took me by complete surprise. I’ve recommended the book to several others since.”
She found a novel about George and Martha Washington just as she was heading to Washington, D.C., with her sister. “While we didn’t make it to Mount Vernon, it was the perfect read while touring our nation’s capital,” she said.
All of this book happiness makes me happy. When I slide a beloved book into a neighborhood library, I have no way of knowing what will happen to it. Sometimes (I hear neighbors complain) every book disappears overnight, and neighbors suspect someone is taking them all to sell. But more often the books stay put, disappearing one by one over time.
And I hope that the books I leave turn out to be, like those Bachel has found, exactly what someone is hoping for — even if they didn’t know.
Have you found a treasure in a Little Free Library? Have you found a neighborhood that is particularly rich in its selection of books? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks