Steal This Book
By Michael Schulder
May 23, 2014
This story begins about 27-hundred years ago with an epic journey through the islands of ancient Greece, and ends, I hope, with a crime of epic impact on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket this June.
A few weeks ago, at the urging of my teenage daughter, I rushed out of the house to my local Barnes & Noble to search for a copy of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” which is said to have been written around 700 B.C. I was told her lit teacher required the translation by a scholar named Robert Fagles.
I felt like I struck gold. The Fagles edition was in stock. Just one copy left.
I bought the treasure and, before returning home, stopped at the grocery store.
I left the volume in plain view, in the front passenger seat, as you can see here.
And then I noticed the sign in the parking lot that you see below.
Please Lock & Remove All Valuables From Your Car.
I hesitated for a moment – but quickly concluded nobody – but nobody – would consider The Odyssey a valuable – certainly not valuable enough to risk stealing.
What a crime! Not the potential theft. The crime, in my mind, was that nobody would even be tempted to Steal This Book.
The Back-Back Story
I think I felt this way because I had just read one of my other children’s lit assignments: Fahrenheit 451. In that dystopia, imagined by author Ray Bradbury, it was a crime to have a book. Special teams were established to go house-to-house and burn every book in existence.
A loose coalition of courageous individuals commits the crime of memorizing the most important works of the greatest authors – waiting for the day when they might return the words to the page.
I thought – some brave soul from the world of Fahrenheit 451 might have risked it all to break into my car at the grocery store parking lot – memorize The Odyssey – and dispose of the evidence. What a hero he or she would be.
I returned to my car to find The Odyssey – as I’d expected – just where I’d left it.
Nantucket, June 2014
Around the time of this episode I was asked to moderate a couple of author roundtables at this summer’s Nantucket Book Festival which will surely, I hope, be standing room only events.
Of the roughly 150-thousand new books to be published this year in the U.S., my assignment at The Nantucket Book Festival has required me to immerse myself in a small number of the very best, which I’ll be describing here in the coming weeks.
Are any of these books valuable enough to steal? Of course they are. It wouldn’t be right. But it would give the thief, provided he or she reads the book, insights that might lead to a richer, more meaningful, wiser life.
Like a car, you could steal any one of these books for their parts. A paragraph here, a chapter there. Even one sentence can enrich a literature-deprived life like the one I’ve been living.
Here’s just one example.
In the novel Ruby, on page 7, author Cynthia Bond introduces us to a man named Ephram Jennings, from a little rural town in Texas that is every bit the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451. Before Bond conveys the horrors that human beings have inflicted on their fellow human beings, which I’m afraid are not entirely from her imagination, Bond writes this of Ephram and his community: “They didn’t notice the gracious pause he’d take after someone would finish a sentence, the way he’d give folks the chance to take air back in their lungs , before he’d fill the space up with his own breath and words.”
This may be the most vivid sentence I’ve ever read on the power of The Pause – which is an essential skill in a good listener. And pausing to listen is one of the most important traits needed to develop empathy.
And so, this one sentence, from one of the 34 great authors invited to the Nantucket Book Festival this summer, is clearly of great value. You should pay for it, of course. But if I were hungry to become a better listener and a more empathetic person, and pass on that value of empathy to my children, and starved for cash ….
To spread the word, the Nantucket Book Festival and WaveMaker have teamed up to invite people attending the Festival to steal a select number of books – clearly marked -- left out around town for the taking.
And I will ask every author I encounter to put their humility aside and answer this question: What makes your book so valuable that it’s worth stealing?
If you’re not planning to be on Nantucket in June -- don’t worry.
WaveMaker plans to reach your shores with the Steal This Book Wave – as sure as Odysseus returned to Ithaca.