A Box of Free Books at the South Pole
- by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Nature abhors a vacuum. So do SUVs.
When packing to travel from the North Pole (Iuka) of Mississippi to the South Pole (Pass Christian), I fill every inch of my largest vehicle with what I deem necessary equipment. It’s a long way between Poles.
This trip, crammed beside the ice chests and boot boxes and suitcases, underneath an old chenille bedspread with a peacock, I shoehorn in a Little Free Library. It’s the size of a big birdhouse and has a corrugated tin top, an aqua blue door with glass and a pink knob for opening.
Across the Bridge
The best part is what’s inside. The Little Free Library is full of books, natch, many of which I’ve read and want to pass along to others. Some of the books I’ve been given – a perk or hazard of my trade, as the case may be – and have never read. I try to stock the library with books for all ages.
I saw my first Little Free Library box in the Garden District in New Orleans, where everything, including the garbage, looks enchanting. The next day, as fate would decide, I heard a story about the movement on National Public Radio. I was intrigued by the sight and the concept. It reminded me of the Paris book stalls, where from sunrise to sunset used books are sold from green wooden boxes anchored near the Seine.
Except in this case, the books were to be free. And I live near a lake called Pickwick, not Paris.
So about two months ago, in anticipation of all the four-wheelers and golf carts that roar by on Independence Day, I made my own Little Free Library.
You can buy one ready-made from the website (littlefreelibrary.org), but I had this old teak drawer from a sailboat and another life and decided I could use it as the foundation to build my own library. Eventually I used that drawer, the tin top from a rotting birdhouse, a picture frame, Plexiglas and lots of glue.
Some of the libraries registered online are amazingly clever, designed to look like travel trailers, lighthouses, barns, even Frank Lloyd Wright-ish houses. Mine is nothing like that. But, so far, it’s held the rain off the books, which is the main point.
About the time I situated the library near the road in a conspicuous place, I was called out of town on a family emergency. My neighbor Terry had to become head librarian. He agreed to add more books as our stock became depleted. Which, I anticipated, would be the first weekend.
I phoned home to check. A few times Terry reported cars and trucks and off-road contraptions slowing down to check out the alien sight at the edge of the woods. But business was slow. Shall we say crowds did not gather? “I took National Velvet,” Terry said helpfully.
When I returned and inspected the stacks I missed maybe three books. I knew from an email that a couple from Vicksburg had driven up to sample our area’s barbecue and somehow found the library that, by this time, I’d described in a column. So apparently my only library patrons were from about 300 miles away, best I can figure.
The Little Free Library folks tell you to put the box on a post like a rural mailbox. I left mine on a table, the better for moving if the site proved inactive. The site proved inactive.
I guess what I’m doing now is conducting an experiment. I’ll be able to tell now if people in the Pass like to read more than people in my hollow. It will only take the movement of three or four books to prove this true.
In fairness, my place in the North is off the beaten track. It’s so far in the boonies that cell phones don’t work there. Maybe it’s expecting too much to lure campers and fishermen to a book stall.
My dreams of being a pioneering bouquiniste in Tishomingo County were shattered. Gone South, if you will.
She writes original monthly essays for The Cleaver from her home across the bridge in Pass Christian where she spends roughly half of each year. The rest of the time she lives in Iuka, Miss., in an old farmhouse in a cold, dark hollow.