Intersections – The Broken Bookshelf

Posted by July 23, 2014


Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

By Nicki Salcedo

I’m the Piped Piper of books. I buy books, I win books, and books are given to me. Books find me. At night our books multiply. In the morning, we give books away. I match people with books. I’ve called myself a book whisperer. If you tell me a few things about yourself, I can suggest a book for you. Any genre.

I want to teach my kids that reading any kind book is okay. One of them likes to read below her reading level. At first I agonized over this. Why wasn’t she reading War and Peace at 10 years old? Another likes books with pictures. That’s not reading! But then I realized that looking at pictures and flipping pages is as good as reading. Never mind that he is six years old.

Our summer project is stocking the little free libraries around town. At first, my kids were embarrassed at the idea. “Mommy, I don’t think you should be touching that.” “Mommy, if we take a book and not leave a book isn’t that stealing?” “Mommy, can we just go to the park already?”

But after our first book drop, as we walked toward the park, my kids noticed a couple looking in the little library we just filled. A woman and man each took a book we’d just left in the library. My eight-year-old, the most suspicious, started jumping up and down. “They took a book!”

“That, my dear, is the point.” Now my kids like checking-up on the little libraries. The one by City Hall has the fastest turnover. We see it empty, and by the time we come back, it is already filled up again. Often we just tidy the books and stare at the reading options. We wonder what books people have read, what they want to share, what might someone read. This fills us with great happiness.

Each book isn’t just a story. It is an entire life. A life can be saved or healed or changed by a book. Books are not for the elite or educated. This is where the story changes. This isn’t really a happy story. The bookshelf is broken.

We went to the little library in front of Clairemont Elementary School, and it was empty. Not a book inside. I’d been watching this library for some time. It was always empty. No turnover at all. This is the little library that started our crusade. A person built this beautiful structure by hand and no one thought to add books. How come people accepted the little empty library? We brought books and filled it up, but something was wrong.

I recently spoke at the Atlanta-Fulton County library. Before I went, people joked with me about the number of homeless people I might encounter during my talk. Bookish people, regular people who love books would rather be at coffee shops and bookstores. Big city public libraries are a shunned.

My son got to meet the author and illustrator of the Fancy Nancy series and someone commented to me that I should have brought my daughters. I got a little mad. My son doesn’t particularly like Fancy Nancy, but he likes this book, and [drumroll], he is reading the words in the book. For me that makes a good book.

I find myself around bookish people. This used to bring me a lot of joy, but these days bookish people irritate me. They are no fun. They don’t care about everyone reading. They only care about “smart” people reading “good” books. Writers are developing a bad habit of condescending, marginalizing, and creating an invisible class system.

Everyone deserves to share the bookshelf.

  • No one can ever control you if you read.
  • Reading a book can improve your creativity in cooking and art and music and building little free libraries.
  • If someone tells you shouldn’t read a specific book or a specific kind of book, you should read everything.
  • Read in the closet or under the covers with a flashlight. Read like women and slaves were once denied this privilege. Read like it might be denied you one day.
  • Every kind of person should read regardless of money and education.
  • Every book has value. The pink fancy books. The books with only pictures. Bad books. Sexy books. Even the used and used and used again books are worth something.

I have author friends and teachers dropping off books at my house. We are spending the summer filing up the shelves and hoping someone who needs a book finds a book. Books find me. I’m thankful every day, because books love me. The bookshelf might be broken, but it can be fixed. You can fix it. I know this because we haven’t written the ending yet.

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom.


View all posts by

  • Little Librarian

    I also love the Little Libraries in Decatur. I keep track of what goes in and out of a few of them. I even rearrange them if they get disheveled. They have been a fantastic addition to Decatur, all the more so because it’s been an organic, participatory, from-the-ground-up phenomenon.

    But I haven’t run into your book snobs. I belong to ~3 book clubs at any one time and find the other readers eager and open about all sorts of literature. Maybe you need to hang out more with readers and less with writers!

    • Nicki Salcedo

      The little libraries are wonderful. I think I’ve visited 10 around town and I’m sure there are more. I wish there was a directory of them. And writers are readers!

      • Little Librarian

        Re directory: There is a map of all registered Little Free Libraries in the world: But many little libraries aren’t registered. Looking at the site’s map, it looks like about half of Decatur’s are registered.

        Playing off of the Unofficial Guide to Disney, maybe we need an Unoffocial Guide to City of Decatur’s LFLs.

        • Nicki Salcedo

          That map is happiness. Thank you so much for sharing! You can use it when you travel.

  • Jon Abercrombie

    With the leadership of a neighbor a Little Free Library was planted on Wilton Dr. Neighbors helped to build it. Children helped paint it. It was unveiled with music to a group of neighbors. It has done quite nicely with a good stock of books. Neighbors are invested in it. I have also noticed those not doing so well, like the one in Glenlake Park. It has not yet found its community. I am also on the board of the DeKalb Public Libraries. Like the little ones, the big ones need communities that adopt them and protect them. Thanks for the well-written article Nicki. Keep up the good work

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Historically, the largest building in town represented the thing the town most valued (place of worship or burial). Here’s a toast to the smallest things in our town, the little libraries. Love that the kids painted the one on Wilton. And here’s to our libraries big and small.

  • Jessamine13

    We have several LFLs in Tucker. Happy to say the one in my neighborhood is always full of books and they do change so it’s not just a book dump. 🙂 We’re hoping to build one of our own soon.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I want to build one on my street, too! We see a lot of great books in them and agree most are not just a book dump.

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Ms. Nicki. I’ve never taken a book from any of the little libraries around Decatur but I have peeked in to see what’s there. Still hoping to find a first edition of Gone With The Wind or better yet, an autographed copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. My wife would love me even more. But I am a little suspicious of these things. Isn’t it only a matter of time when someone reports (hopefully to Decaturish, the BEST SOURCE FOR DECATUR NEWS) that materials unsuitable for children are being left? And aren’t most of the books throw-a-ways? And if people really wanted to help those without access to books get more, shouldn’t they be putting little libraries in depressed areas south of the city? And isn’t the real problem that some parents could care less about reading to their kids and not access? And are you really serious that every book has value? Oh Come On!
    OK, quitting now. I don’t want Ilene at Winnona, Heather at DHS or any other librarian picketing in front of my house.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I have to start with “every book has a value?” Yes. Each book has a match. It might not be a match for me, but it is a match for someone, and I stand by every book being good. And the only book I’ve taken from a little library in Decatur, GA USA? A Star Trek novelizaton with a photo of William Shatner on the cover. Shatner on a book! That is a good thing. Here are some of the books I’ve noted in the libraries. Tons of Jane Austen novels, Dracula, many Shakespeare. I don’t consider Hamlet a throw away play/book. As for the depressed part of town? That’s all points north and south, east and west. That’s the point. If people are told to only read what’s good, they might not read anything at all. Don’t adventure stories have a value? Spy books? You can report me to the news for filling the libraries of those bad throw away books like romance novels, sci-fi, mysteries, Shakespeare, and Austen. I hope you find that first edition one day. It could happen. I hope it does. Thanks for reading.

    • underscorex

      I have never seen a child go into a LFL and bring out something truly inappropriate. Kids aren’t interested in 1970s cookbooks or bodice-rippers with Fabio on the front, unless you’re suggesting that some malefactor is going to go in there and staple an issue of Hustler inside an old copy of Ranger Rick?

      The most objectionable thing i’ve seen in one are children’s books with religious (usually Christian) themes. I wouldn’t want my child reading those.

      Chill out.

      • Nicki Salcedo

        Fortunately for those of us who read 1984, a surveillance system is out of the question.

    • Corey Anderson

      “shouldn’t they be putting little libraries in depressed areas south of the city?”
      In the case of LFLs, which are run completely by volunteers with no bureaucracy, the “they” is you. If you see a need for a LFL in south Decatur, then put one there! That said, people are mobile and the less fortunate travel through all parts of the city. The LFL in my front yard in Candler Park sees a lot of action from folks who appear to be homeless. So I added a bench so anyone can rest a bit while they read.

      • Nicki Salcedo

        Corey, love your facebook page. Did you see the map site above with the directory of little libraries? I hope yours is on there. I will have to do some detective work to find your library! The “they” is you and me and all our friends.

  • Liz Bucko

    Thanks Nicki — love this — huge reading advocate. I even like to read math books …. One of my favorite quotes:

    “There is no better tool than a book. It can pry open the locks of poverty
    and hopelessness and make way for dreams that take hold.”

    Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President, The Children’s Defense Fund

    • Nicki Salcedo

      We have math books in our house, too. Wonderful quote. True sentiment. Thanks for stopping by.

Receive the Daily Email DIgest

* = required field