Where is Abbie Hoffman When You Need Him?

We posted this item discussing the most stolen books a while ago but the topic has become hot again, so we reprint it – with an update.
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Book theft just isn’t what it used to be.  Thieves are neither as selective as they once were, nor as imaginative.

That seems to be the conclusion reached by author Margo Rabb (Cures for Heartbreak) in an article she wrote for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Steal These Books.

From all she is able to learn, the most purloined title is The Bible. “Apparently,” Rabb writes, “the thieves have not yet read the ‘Thou shalt not steal’ part — or maybe they believe that Bibles don’t need to be paid for. ‘Some people think the word of God should be free,'” an Austin, Texas bookstore owner tells her, and for a Springfield, Oregon bookstore manager, it is free. “If a person asks for a Bible,” says Rabb, “they’ll be given a copy without charge.”

New Yorkers are more secular in their shoplifting tastes. A Manhattan bookshop reports the disappearance of fiction masters like Martin Amis, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo and Jack Kerouac.

Note that no female authors are on the hit-list. “’It’s mostly younger men stealing the books,’” a Brooklyn store owner told Rabb. “They think it’s an existential rite of passage to steal their homeboy.’” The manager of operations of the famous Tattered Cover in Denver reported the same thing. “’Our arrest record is very male.’”

Bookstores may inadvertently be accessories to these crimes. For an Austin store called BookPeople, the books promoted by the store are the ones most likely to be nicked. “I feel like our staff recommendation cards should read: ‘BookPeople Bookseller recommends that you steal ________.’” the head book buyer told Rabb.

You can get arrested for stealing a book from a store, but that’s not as bad as stealing an e-book, for which you can possibly be sued.

Of all the titles you would imagine are most likely to be stolen, Abbie Hoffman’s 1971 classic Steal This Book is the most obvious. At this writing a mint copy can cost you over $50.00. Stealing that copy of Steal This Book would be considered a felony in many states.

Publishers Weekly recently updated the Most Stolen list but some familiar candidates, like Jack Kerouac, are still there. New on the list is Paul Auster, whose New York Trilogy seems to get lifted wholesale. One bookstore owner reported “I had a whole stack once of about 20 or 30 copies of The New York Trilogy that somebody just came in and took the whole stack.”

Richard Curtis

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