The first book I ever stole and the only one I will admit to pilfering was my brothers’s zebra paperback copy of Steal this Book. I think it was the first piece of subversive literature I ever read. I couldn’t believe there were books out there that actually expounded non-conformity. It was very exciting, I think I read everything I could find by Hoffman, Rubin, Cleaver, and their contemporaries…I was eleven.
Stealing books is one of the oldest recreational past times. It’s done by the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the stupid. Aside from Hoffman’s book, polls of commonly stolen titles included the Bible, the Koran, the Guinness Book, Howl, On the Road, the South Beach Diet Book and ironicaly study guides for police and military entrance exams. The net has both increased the market for stolen books as well as facilitated stolen book announcements. Every institution that has anything worth stealing has had a problem with theft. Grad students, professors, researchers, anyone with free access to cultural rarities is considered a security risk. Severed plates are more likely to be found on eBay than in their rightful bindings. The net is replete with reports. The ABAA has a stolen book database – somewhere, I couldn’t find it net accessible.
The profit margin in stolen books has crept up slowly until it rivals other hot commodities, London recently busted its very own Book theft Fagin who ran a ring of book theives and openly sold their swag in a bookstall. A Kentucky Judge is allowing. Unless there is a great deal of money involved people just don’t see book theft as a big deal. We all possess a few books that aren’t exactly our own. But as long as we return them to their rightful owner before they pass away, we are still in the clear…aren’t we? Even Russia’s Duma is returning a collection of books to library in Hungary that were checked out in 1945 by some soldiers – what’s 60 years of overdue fines between friends?
Fictional book thefts seem to more popular than real ones: The stolen blue by Judith Van Gieson, the Cliff Janeway novels by John Dunning, Death in Dublin by Bartholomew Gill. As for published non-fiction accounts I found very little, perhaps there’s not enough sex and violence in book thievery to hold public interest. Biblio-Clouseau Ken Sanders still deams about finding time to write up his exploits beyond condensed pieces about the John Gilkey affair: see Feb’s San Francisco Magazine.