In the winter of 2014-15, books began to show up along Route 287, between Boulder and Longmont, Colorado: tens, then hundreds, scattered on the road, marooned in culverts, trapped in weeds, blown across cornfields and into pastures.
Bottles, hub caps, sneakers, shopping carts — these are our normal roadside flora. But books? Whose books? Why books?
Answers arrived when a Colorado State Trooper, patrolling 287, noticed a man tossing books out of his car, pulled him over, and arrested him. The man confessed that he was, indeed, the Literary Litterer.
He explained that he had bought hundreds of books at a going-out-of-business sale, hoping to hawk them on e-Bay, but was crushed by Amazon. Taking them to Goodwill or the dump was too far out of his way, and his arthritis made hefting them up into a dumpster impossible. Flicking them from his car, on his way to and from work, was, apparently, his only option.
I didn’t even know anybody cared, he said, I just thought they were being blown in a ditch … I’ll stop doing what I’ve been doing.
He was fined and sentenced to community service (NOT at the local library), and that was pretty much the story.
But I worried. What about the books, our almost-human other selves? Where and how were they? Still On the Road? Or Gone with the Wind? Shivering at Cold Comfort Farm? Or safe and warm in The Little House on the Prairie?
I decided to investigate. What I found wasn’t pretty: spines broken, paper pulped, ink bleeding into the soil. But revulsion became revelation, and revelation reality, with the establishment of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Books (SPCB).
Our Motto: There Are No Bad Books; Only Bad Readers. Our Premise: Responsible Readers Can Be Trained. For pre-schoolers, we humanize things, explaining that books don’t like baths (soap in the eyes); school-agers want reality, so we take them to print shops and book binderies to see and smell and touch; with adults, we are frank: Dog-ear a page, and you could lose your library card!
But bad things will still happen. Books will get lost. We’re the ones behind the microchip implant in every book, and the National Registry, which, together, have reunited hundreds of owners and their lost books (check the reunion pics on our Facebook page). We also provide a template for a Lost Book flyer that members can edit, print at home, and post at coffee shops, bookstores, and Mensa meeting-sites.
And, since books will still be abused, we have opened Book Shelters across the country. A call to 611 (for books only) dispatches a crew of EBTs (Emergency Book Technicians), who, once the book is stabilized and out of danger, will transport it to a Shelter. (Not every call is a genuine emergency: recently, an EBT team, rushing to a local Starbucks, found a man screaming at his copy of Trump: The Art of the Deal, but no actual physical abuse.)
The final element in this network of education-prevention-protection is our Adopt-a-Book program, which recognizes that Shelters can only be temporary. Since we do not, and will not, euthanize, we must quickly find homes for our books.
If there is room in your heart and your bookshelf, consider adopting a book. Ours are clean: pencil marks and blood stains have been removed. They are healthy: spines have been rehabilitated, rips repaired. They get regular exercise: pages are turned daily. They have been treated lovingly: a cup of coffee every morning (as a companion, not as a drink); in the evening, a quiet read (from, not to).
A final note: SPCB had considered establishing a Therapy Book service, but found it unnecessary. Every book is already a Therapy Book looking for a sympathetic reader. If we can protect them, the right books will find their way into the right hands and hearts.