Little Free Library

Little Free Libraries have been popping up everywhere in Newton these days. We’ve had a Little Free Library in our neighborhood in Waban for a couple years now; there have been two at “The Street” in Chestnut Hill for nearly as long; and in the past few weeks, others have appeared in front of the Waban Library Center, a house on Beacon Street, and a house in Newton Centre.

Take a book, leave a book

Anyone can put up a box filled with books with a sign telling passersby to take a book and leave a book, and it seems our neighbors are fond of reading and encouraging others to read. Although I mostly read books borrowed from the public library these days, having so many Little Free Libraries around is encouraging me to re-visit my shelves, looking for books I’ve read and don’t plan to revisit.

No book-lover likes to weed out books; ideally, we’d keep every book we’ve read or wanted to read. But giving books away is different. Leaving a book in a Little Free Library feels like the bookish equivalent of catch-and-release fishing. Having held a book in your hands for a little while, you set it free for some other reader to enjoy.

Little Free Library

Today on my way home from an errand, I left books at two Little Free Libraries in Chestnut Hill (pictured here in August, when the world was both warmer and leafier). I’ve described before the sense of serendipity the Little Free Library in our neighborhood inspires: taking a book that a stranger left for anyone’s enjoyment feels like claiming a grace freely given. That grace, I’ve found, works both ways: leaving a book for someone you’ll never see feels expansive, a small act of kindness that opens your heart with a sense of abundance and generosity.

Little Free Library

Although I know full well the joy that comes from possessing a full-to-brimming bookshelf, giving books away creates a different kind of satisfaction. Giving a book to a stranger you’ll never see makes you feel both generous and amply blessed: only someone who has enough can happily share with no need for stinginess. When I leave a book at a Little Free Library, I imagine myself as setting it free to fly wherever it is needed. I like to imagine the person who will claim the book that was formerly mine: someone I hope will enjoy it as much as I did and who might even have enough abundance of heart to share it in turn.

First crocus

This election season has been filled with too much aggressively inflammatory rhetoric from a certain politician who wants to Make America Hate Again. According to said politician, America is a place that needs to wall itself in like a treasure-hoarding dragon, there not being enough Greatness to go around. When I hear the exclusionary hatred espoused by said politician, my fists clench with a miserly tightness: if there isn’t enough grace, then surely it makes sense to keep ourselves In and all the others Out.

But when I walk outside on an almost-spring day–when I see crocuses poking through the bare soil or tiny spots of green sprouting from seemingly dead twigs–I’m reminded that the world is amply abundant and not-at-all miserly. In the spring, green is a grace freely given, and in a nation that is truly great, so are acceptance, inclusion, and joy.

Newton's newest little free library

A Little Free Library has appeared in our neighborhood, with a sign urging passersby to “take a book, return a book.” The box is right alongside a footpath that is popular with dog walkers, runners, and mothers walking their children to and from school, so I’m sure many people will browse the books on offer even if they don’t take (or return) any for themselves.

Old phone booth repurposed as BookCrossing station

Most of the books currently in the box are for children, but there were several titles for adults as well. (I would have claimed a paperback copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild if I hadn’t already read it on my Kindle.) But even though I haven’t taken any books from our local Little Free Library, I did leave a paperback copy of Junot Diaz’ The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao–a book I enjoyed but probably won’t re-read–for someone else to claim. I like the idea of someone else happening upon a new-to-them book that would have otherwise sat collecting dust on my shelves: a sense of serendipity in the middle of an ordinary jog or dog-walk.

Little Free Library

These days I’ve fallen in love again with my local public library, submitting requests for books that look interesting and then feeling a small thrill when I get an email saying my book has arrived. Submitting library requests is like writing letters to Santa: you can ask for whatever you want, but you have to be patient (and have faith) while your request is being processed.

Whenever I go to the library to pick up a book I’ve requested, I browse the New Titles on display, looking for anything that catches my eye. When you spy a promising title you hadn’t previously heard of, you get the same sense of serendipity you might feel when browsing a Little Free Library: here, by chance, is a book for you, free for the taking, and all you have to do is claim it.

Literary freecycling is alive and well in greater Boston. The top photo shows the newest Little Free Library here in Newton, the second photo shows a phone booth re-purposed as a BookCrossing station on Mass Ave in Boston, and the last photo shows a Little Free Library in Jamaica Plain.