Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stop (Book) Thief!

Mark Hooper on the Guardian blog blows the whistle on book thieves around the globe and picks up a very funny account from independent bookseller Paul Constant on the website of Seattle newspaper The Stranger :
In my eight years working at an independent bookstore, I lost count of how many shoplifters I chased through the streets of Seattle while shouting "Drop the book!" I chased them down crowded pedestrian plazas in the afternoon, I chased them through alleys at night, I even chased one into a train tunnel. I chased a book thief to the waterfront, where he shouted, "Here are your fucking books!" and threw a half-dozen paperbacks, including Bomb the Suburbs and A People's History of the United States, into Puget Sound, preferring to watch them slowly sink into the muck rather than hand them back to the bookseller they were stolen from. He had that ferocious, orgasmic gleam in his eye of somebody who was living in the climax of his own movie: I suppose he felt like he was liberating them somehow.
Another day he apprehended a would-be thief with a "shopping list" of books to nick :
Charles Bukowski, Jim Thompson, Philip K Dick, William S Burroughs and "any graphic novel" ... pretty much the authoritative top five, New York Times best-seller list of stolen books.
Terry Practchett emerges as the UK's most stolen author says Hooper, while in Australia the top three most stolen books apparently haven't changed in decades. (It's a little unsettling that most of the book-thieves are clearly planning a holiday in this part of the world!)

But according to Winson Tan in the Age, it's (ironically!) true-crime fiction that most frequently walks out the door in Melbourne, followed by self-help titles.

Wonder what the most stolen titles are here in Malaysia? Anyone with inside info care to tell us?

Although it would be very hard to sneak books out of our local stores like Kinokuniya and MPH with their hi-tech tagging devices and security guards, but even if your bookshop can't afford those, you could try this medieval remedy, an anti-theft charm written into the book to make sure it isn't stolen:
Steal not this book, my worthy friend
For fear the gallows will be your end;
Up the ladder, and down the rope,
There you'll hang until you choke;
Then I'll come along and say -
"Where's that book you stole away?


bookseller said...

This is a touchy issue with booksellers. In Malaysia, it is mainly favourites range from local stuff like May 13 by Kua King Siong; Reluctant Politician by Ooi Kee Beng; Guinness Bk of Records (every year, without fail); Blue Ocean Strategy (biz bk by W Chan Kim); Friedman's World Is Flat; Byrne's The Secret and so on. Basically anything that is easily re-sold in the black market, off-loaded to some obscure small towns...

Notice something out of that list above? No FICTION/LIT!!! Malaysian book thieves are mainly, I believe, very business-oriented. Perhaps there's the occassional petty thief, but rare where I'm selling...

Whatever it is that they steal, it's heart-breaking for a bookseller when the theft is discovered...

If I were Hooper, I would have beaten the daylights out of that jerk.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for that insight, bookseller. the local thieves seem a very organised lot.

Kak Teh said...

may be they can an order list first before they go on the spree?

Kak Teh said...

sorry, it shd be: May be they have an order list before they go on a spree?

Madcap Machinist said...

the obvious need to be said: bibliokleptomaniacs!

Burhan said...

someone once told me that bourgeois french writers used to steal a lot of the books they read. they want to imitate rimbaud or jean genet. stealing a book for the first time used to be a right of passage for certain groups of parisian novelists in the 60s, i hear.

suddenly, i am also reminded of the abbie hoffman classic handbook of survival, 'steal this book', which taught me a thing or two about going to the cinemas for free.

bibliobibuli said...

looked up hoffman's book on wikipedia and found bookshops didn't want to carry a book of that title, but it still became a best-seller.

Anonymous said...

This underdog, give-it-to-the-man thing always sells. Never mind the fact that it would be a crime and only lead to anarchy.