It’s so-o-o-o cute. Why does it need saving?
Because the book selection is awful!
I love pop culture. I read mysteries and watch sitcoms. But why go to the trouble of putting a Little Free Library bookcase-on-a-stick in your front yard if the best you can offer is Carl Hiassen, Jonathan Kellerman, or V. C. Andrews?
So this is what people read, we say as we inspect the LFLs we so admired when they started.
The populist LFL trend began in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin. Todd Bol built a small bookcase in the shape of a one-room schoolhouse and stuck it in his yard with a sign saying “Free Book Exchange.” People loved it and built their own and there are, according to the LFL website, as of January 2016, 36,000 Little Free Libraries registered in the U.S. and in 40 other countries.
But is it really a movement? No, it’s one of those things people put in their yard and forget about. But why not use it to raise the level of reading? Book clubs, literacy organizations, and political discussion groups could sponsor LFLs. Liberal hipsters formed co-ops and groups in the ’60s and ’70s to discuss and promote collective knowledge: our non-physical LFLs contained Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest books, Thoreau’s Walden, The Diaries of Anais Nin, Our Bodies, Ourselves, The Population Bomb, Brecht, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sexual Politics, books on Dadaism, and Dune. Today, everybody has a voice and a Facebook page (she says, while blogging), but the internet absurdly has promoted the concept that all literature is equal. When Jackie Collins died, our library had a display of her books. The Library of Congress classifies Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant as fantasy and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries as a mystery. (That’s where you’ll find them at our public library.) The few remaining newspaper book pages pander to the masses with interviews with Danielle Steel and reviews of rock memoirs. And by the way, rock memoirs are ghosted, are they not, so why review them? The few I’ve skimmed set the bar for bad writing.
In a stunning article in The Millions, “The Open Refrigerator,” Gerald Howard, an editor at Doubleday, discusses the changes in the now corporate culture of publishing. He writes about the history of the publication and decline of sales of Thomas Mann’s books in the U.S.
Sadly, The Magic Mountain, once a fixture of every middlebrow household’s bookshelf, has fallen off sharply in its sales and cultural currency, as has the rest of Mann’s oeuvre. He and it are too forbidding, demanding, and German for contemporary tastes.
It’s true. Foreign language departments are closing, the LFLS display bad books, God knows what Book Page editors are up to these days…
If I’m sounding like Carrie Matheson in Homeland, it’s because I just watched Season 4 on DVD!
To be honest, the LFLs do not do a brisk job in moving books, so why do I care?