In Praise of Street Libraries

I’d like to say a few words in praise of free street libraries and the magically random books they deliver to me and, presumably, many others.

Almost all of my current reading material originates from street libraries. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that random discoveries of this nature can never be replicated by an algorithm. It’s called browsing with your eyes, not by AI.

Some of my recent finds: a terrible novel by late-stage Milan Kundera, Norman Mailer in hardback, Jules Verne, the incredible novel The Night Swimmers by Peter Rock, Kurt Vonnegut, Shirley Hazzard, and the collected poems of Alan Ginsberg (complete with his ode to Kerouac or Neal Cassady’s great ass).

Some of these discoveries exploded tiny epiphanies or sluiced nuggets of literary gold into whatever writing project I was working on. For example, An excerpt from Ginsberg’s poem appears in my forthcoming thriller, which is about the most unlikeliest place you could ever find an Alan Ginsberg poem, but which is precisely why it’s there.

One of my astonishing finds occurred several years ago. It was a collection of tankas, the ancient form of Japanese love poetry, five lines, thirty-one syllables, written by two female Japanese poets from the eleventh century. The Ink Dark Room was truly a revelation, one of the most incredible reads of my life. Reading the tankas provided me with a timeless clarity into matters of the human heart. These two women knew love and the loss of love like no other writers I have ever read and certainly better than any loveless therapist you might hire. One woman wrote 240 tankas to her departed lover and he perhaps never read them, let alone knew they existed. The book blew my mind and soul. I had known nothing of this poetic form until finding the book and not long thereafter, I composed a few myself, and of course, the subjects would never know I had written them. There is some wild power in knowing that.

I play my part in the unique and anonymous cultural exchange of street libraries by stocking them with my authored books and ones I keep culling from my collection. As for giving away my own books that I’ve paid to print, I’ve found some of my best readers this way. More authors should try it.

This summer, I plan on producing a publication exclusively distributed in street libraries.

Drain. Oregon City. Canby. Portland. Sisters. Bend. Astoria. Klamath Falls. I’ve hit these towns and many more around Oregon and stocked books in their street libraries.

Never underestimate the power of a book found in a street library.

I urge everyone reading this to make a donation this week. Or erect one outside your home.