In the wake of news about the arrest of historian and author Barry H. Landau on charges of stealing valuable historical documents from libraries, I came across an interesting web article about the five most stolen books from bookstores. The list might surprise you.
First was anything written by Charles Bukowski. Hard for me to believe that, but the prolific Bukowski — he wrote over 60 books and hundreds and hundreds of other things before his death in 1994 — is a favorite of thieves, at least in some big-city bookstores where his books are kept behind the counter for safety’s sake.
Second is anything by William S. Burroughs (making this seem like something of a counter-culture observation, I suppose). Burroughs, who died in 1997, was a major figure in the Beat Generation (remember that?) probably best known for his book “Naked Lunch” (1959). Again, I’m guessing thefts of his books surface only in selected cities.
Three, Jack Kerouac (seriously, are you not detecting some unifying themes here?). This one makes a little more sense to me from a strictly literary standpoint. The web article says the thief is most likely a young male “someone who wants to commit a reckless act (and) is most interested in reading about reckless acts.”
Fourth is a living author, Paul Auster, generally described as an existentialist writer, and to be perfectly honest about it, a writer whose work I don’t know at all. Steal away.
Fifth is anything by Martin Amis, the British author, whose presence on the list seems — after the ones before him — quite unexpected. Amis is a highly regarded, living writer, but there are, after all, many others, so it’s hard to account for his exalted position.
And what about libraries? The DeKalb library system doesn’t have any meaningful numbers about specific stolen books, but NPR media critic Brooke Gladstone — who spoke at the Center for the Book a few weeks back — says that library thieves in general tend to go for how-to books. Anything on witchcraft, sex manuals, astrology, etc. And Bibles.
Yep, don’t forget Bibles. Thieves do go after that, in obvious disregard of the commandment that says something about not stealing. The best thought might be to hope that once home with his prize booty, the thief might find something in the Bible to arouse his guilt, something that might make him repent, change his ways, at least return the Bible.
Don’t hold your breath, however.