Monday, August 2nd, 2010
38

The Most-Stolen Books At McNally Jackson

THE FORBIDDEN BOOKSFor some customers of delightful Prince Street bookstore McNally Jackson, the 20% discount on offer in July just wasn't enough. Some customers would just rather steal. Turns out, there's a certain subset of literature that really brings out the sticky fingers in people. When the staff discovered which books were being slipped into backpacks and satchels with the most regularity, they moved these titles to a protected section behind the counter. Books on lockdown! So-here are the books all the kids are stealing these days!

  • Paul Auster, "New York Trilogy" and others. ("I never thought Paul Auster was five-finger discount stuff," said Brook Stephenson, a bookseller.)
  • Bukowski, "Tales of Ordinary Madness," "Ham on Rye."
  • Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail," "Hell's Angels."
  • Paulo Coelho, "The Alchemist."
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Great Gatsby" and all the others.
  • Various Hemingway, including "A Moveable Feast" and "The Sun Also Rises."
  • David Sedaris, "Naked," "Me Talk Pretty One Day." ("Yeah, I don't understand that one," Stephenson said. "David Sedaris? Really?")
  • Jack Kerouac, "On The Road." ("With the beatnik writers they want the beatnik price," Stephenson said.)

Bookseller Yvette Grant told me Don DeLillo used to be back there, too, but he was moved to the shelves because of "space issues." She mentioned, however, that there have been no incidents of people trying to steal his books since they've gone unprotected. You're losing your edge, Don!

The culprits of these literary heists don't risk returning to the bookstore. "We have a list [of people who have been caught]-it's over ten," Stephenson said. "We have mug shots of them, a wall of shame."

But really-what kind of soulless creature would steal a book? "You might find students, you might find adults," Grant said.

"It might be a couple with a baby and a stroller!" Stephenson said. "I'm serious!"

Stephenson walked to the shelf and un-wedged a paperback from the row. "And these aren't expensive books," he said, flipping on to its back. "For Whom The Bell Tolls? This is 16 bucks! C'mon-are you serious?"

Carlos Solis, another bookseller, crouched down to examine the titles. Most of them fall squarely in the canon of books that have become a cliché to read.

"It also means kids are fairly unimaginative," he said.

38 Comments / Post A Comment

Matt (#26)

Steal This Book, anyone?

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Nobody likes being told what to do.

roboloki (#1,724)

jesus tells me to steal bibles.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I always heard that you shouldn't worry if somebody steals your Bible because he evidently needs it worse than you do.

NinetyNine (#98)

$16 for a paperback first published seventy years ago? My sympathy for indie booksellers just contracted a bit.

Trevor Jackson (#1,792)

I really couldn't tell if she was kidding. Was that supposed to be an example of an inexpensive paperback?

mgw (#89)

Yeah, the indie bookstores really need to relax their iron grip on the publishing industry's pricing schemes.

Once upon a time I worked at Wordsworth Books, a decent store that discounted every single book. They don't exist any more. The non-discount chain across the street is doing just fine.

Matt (#26)

I only buy my books at Target.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I only order books at Barnes&Noble and never go pick them up.

garge (#736)

Well, they could be shoving that $250 Corbusier monograph under their baby and strolling on out.

Those get returned as damaged anyway because the jacket gets wrinkled and no one wants to pay $250 for a book unless it's perfect.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

-cough-employees?

just sayin (#6,526)

books that have become a cliche to read? are you serious?

G Garcia-Fenech (#4,190)

I would say that Thompson, Kerouac and Bukowski are definitely cliches for bohemian wannabes. This is not a value judgment (although with the barest encouragement I could expound on that as well). Slightly more creative bohemians might want to at least aim for Celine or Henry Miller, no? Or (*gag*) Tao Lin.

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

I actually always thought bookstores put Bukowski and Kerouac behind the counter as a quirky reference to an aging counterculture, because they were books that hippies used to steal back in the day.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Too bad they don't sell books at American Apparel. Felt like doing so metastealin' this weekend.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Gee, our Los Angeles book thieves go for the art books, when possible, in order to turn them into cash at the used bookstores. Stealing books to read!! You'd think it would be easier to go to the library.

Rod T (#33)

Hm. Now go do the same at Other Music.

ejcsanfran (#489)

My sister used to work at a book store in Las Vegas, NM (yes, this is a place) and the two categories of "most stolen" books were self-help and witchcraft/Wiccan.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

"self-help"=help yourself

keisertroll (#1,117)

HOLY SHIT THE TOWN FROM RED DAWN!!! I'd assume survival manuals would be on the list, if only the Reds didn't confiscate them with their guns.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

St. Mark's Bookshop has a full shelf of behind the counter books.

KenWheaton (#401)

And then both employees began to talk about the music on their iPods, 98% of which neither had ever paid for.

awlsome (#706)

good point.

Peter Feld (#79)

Haha, semioticians are notorious thieves. When I was in college the library could never hold on to a copy of Anti-Oedipus for very long.

The desiring machine wants what it wants.

6h057 (#1,914)

No lie, once I was in this small, independent bookstore in Erie, PA. I had taken the bus up one day from my small satellite campus (part of the University of Pittsburgh) to do a little shopping and get my head out of that jerkwater town. Erie's a nice little town if you're stranded out in the middle of God's country because it's really just a downhill strip leading right into the lake. It looks equally biblical as it does desolate. But I digress as Erie is the last little beacon of hope, one that glimmers on a bright and brisk day.

While there I wandered down the many spacious avenues, blocks away from the main mall. I walked until I found myself in front of a nondescript (read: non-chain) bookstore. It had all the greetings of a decent shop; dusty corners, stacks of books on rickety tables, and a dozing cat in the corner. It was really a pleasant place, there's nothing like being warmed up by the cozy company of books. My entrance was announced by the tiny chimes of bells over the door which prompted the shopkeeper to peer over the large biography hes was steadily digesting. After stealing his attention for a moment he dropped his eyes back on the page and called from behind the book, "Ev'ning."

Taking it all in I called back after drawing down my knit hat and shaking the cold from it, "Hey, wow this is a nice place." I caught a gimps of the corner of the man's mouth pull up an a half-attempt to amuse my comment. Wandering into the shop I looked down at large geographic books placed out on the flimsy tables. "Got any Mark Twain?" I asked, unsure of where to begin looking for the shops specialties.

"Follow the hall towards the back of the shop. American fiction is on the second room to your right. Biographies are farther back in the hall, last door left."

I nodded as I took it all in, slowly pacing myself deeper into the shop. The stacks of the bookshelf created a maze at the back of the shop, flanked only by dusty promotional fliers that hung from the ceiling. Moving much more quickly to the section I was ordered I made a note to come back and explore the front section of the shop.

The hallway leading to the back of the building was a much newer edition to the store than the rest, yet the carpeting of the place seemed to match from the front to the back. The American fiction section (buttressed up against the European history, WWI & II, as well as the history of Pennsylvania and the Erie Canal) neatly filled the far walls of the room. Each section crammed tightly with books that could never be fully cataloged by anyone other than the stores proprietor.

Glancing at the spines, I touched only the backs of names I recognized. Each of the thicker volumes got a longer pause, but just as little attention as the rest. With not much warmth in the American fiction I slid past the WWII section and only looked for volumes that might contain more graphic depictions of the wars. Unsatisfied, I was about to glance over to the history of Pennsylvania in a dire attempt to familiarize myself with anything in this quaint back room. Before touching anything or dignifying the section with a glance I suddenly heard the distinct sound of tearing paper. The sound held little in the quiet interior of the back rooms. Only when I was in the short hallway did the sound repeat or grow in volume. A second greeted me in the hall, and a third beckoned me further down the passage.

It wasn't until I approached the door to the biography room in the back did I realize someone was back there. Whom ever was there did it under the cover of shelves, thick with biographies, autobiographies, over-sized books and personal memories. The light fixture was more harsh than the rest of the store, the room was possibly custodians closet before it became the overflow room. I called into the room, which elicited no response but broke up the rhythm of the ripping. Before I called hello again I was disturbed by the next ripping sound. This time I could hear the paper being wadded up and stuffed into a tight space. It was then followed by a rustling noise that could only have been chewing.

I hesitated for another moment, unsure if it was wise to enter such a strange space. I just about doubled back to the hall only to be greeted by the sleeping cat, now running past me into this room. Just as soon as he disappeared the rustling stopped and the sound of cat litter crunching under little paws started. Equally intrigued and nauseated I was pushed to inquire just what was going on in this little dingy back room.

The harsh light bleached out the covers of the books facing the center of the room, and the elbow of a man's jacket hovered behind one lightly populated stack of chick-lit novels, the multiple copies it wasn't the type of material the average customer was interested in. I called out again and the noises stopped altogether. Within a second I was around the tower of books and looking dead into the face a man was a wad of torn book page hanging over his pepper-colored bead. My initial shock forbade me to speak and with that pause the man continued to swallow the page ripped from the book. He took a moment to adjust himself, and in that instance I shouted, "Bill Murry?!"

With that Bill put down the copy of The Satanic Verses he had been ripping and pressed his index finger to his mouth. He lowered it and whispered, "No one will ever believe you…"

6h057 (#1,914)

First one who tells me I spelled Bill Murray's name wrong wins…

DENNER (#1,763)

I hear he always says this when he's discovered.

Matt (#26)

"NO ONE WILL EVER MISS YOU" – Dave Mustaine

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Still attempting to get my mind around "amuse my comment".

amockingbird (#2,015)

I stole a book once. I was a toddler and didn't know better. My parents went back and paid for it. Still have it somewhere, book of fairy tales.

Jessica Webster (#6,556)

Check local summer reading lists..lol

miette (#2,704)

Only the best bookstores have a "often promoted" area behind the counter — in the salad days of my booknerddom, I'd be ecstatic if what I was looking for could be found there; it was a harbinger of quality for a while. Fante would invariably be there. Burroughs. Borges, sometimes, in my day.

I might not consider it the same divining rod today: Auster? Sedaris? Coehlo???

I almost want to start stealing from McNally Jackson just to set their list back in order.

(note to McNally Jackson: not really! I love you and give you lots of money!)

Suzi Lea (#5,187)

Thomas Pynchon is super pissed that he's not on this list.

Great Paulo Coelho, Congrats… even on stolen books you're a Best Seller!!!!!
Love your knowledge and writing style!!!

alex crowley (#6,571)

i work at Shakespeare & Co on B'way. we've got a similar section for all the beats & bohemians & whatnot, too. then you get college kids stealing french philosophers or zizek. it's very predictable all this. except the auster or sedaris. maybe people are slightly ashamed of themselves?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I go to Ikea to steal old book-club novels, odd encyclopedia volumes and Reader's Digest Condensed Books. I have never been caught.

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