Who steals a book? Why not shoplift a couple of Wal-mart donuts or booze, instead? (Books are stolen largely in part due to their content; people generally risk prosecution for books they actually like to read. This reveals more about the thief than the book they’re stealing. Afterall, one must desperately love a book in order to break the law and steal a book.
Electric Literature recently compiled stories from major players in the indie bookstore market. Owners, managers, and booksellers alike all dished on what they believed were the most stolen books from their respective independent bookstores. Among the list are, of course, pieces of work by popular anti-establishment authors, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac, but there are also plenty of self-help books and those of sexual nature which otherwise paying customers were simply too embarrassed to rightfully buy. Then there are books that imply certain personality traits which teenagers typically buy to post on their social media accounts to attain some sort of superficial gratification. Most of them do not plan on actually reading the books they steal.
Before getting into the most stolen books from indie bookstores, consider the act of stealing books. Free, public libraries have been around for decades, there doesn’t seem to be any real reason to steal a book. However, stealing from an independent bookstore is a crime against books as a whole. Indie bookstores are often small and struggling. They’re local and cultured. If you must steal a book, at least steal from some big corporate entity!
“I’d say [Jack Kerouac’s] On the Road and [Kurt Vonnegut’s] Slaughterhouse 5 are probably the titles we’ve noticed disappearing the most over the years,” claims Massachusetts’ Harvard Bookstore’s marketing and events manager, while the owner of the Astoria Bookstore in Queens, New York says Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and all of Bukowski’s work are the books she reports stolen most often. She goes on to say, “We’ve also lost a lot of Wimpy Kid at book fairs over the years, but that’s not the same kind of issue.”