Steal This Post


Gina Barreca locates literature's odd place in the history of shoplifting:

[Rachel Shteir, author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting] tells a number of fascinating stories about stealing books, including one concerning a rare-book thief, Stephen Carrie Blumberg, who stole  23,000 volumes from archives and libraries—not to sell but to hoard them. His defense was apparently the only time the insanity defense was used in a theft case. She quotes the literary journalist Nicholas Basbanes, who writes in his history of bibliomania, A Gentle Madness, that although bibliomania is "the only hobby, so far as I know, that is recognized in the DSM of the American Psychiatric Association as a bona fide disease, I don’t excuse book theft on the basis of being a disease. Had I been on the Blumberg jury—and I witnessed the entire trial—I would have voted to convict."

What I found most intriguing was Shteir’s assertion that "Among editors, a book’s shopliftability alternated between a mark of its popularity and proof of a writer’s unoriginality. One editor who had worked in academic publishing felt ‘perverse pride’ when one of his books went ‘behind the counter’—slang for the bookstore putting a title out of shoplifter’s reach—but sneered that the majority of books were written by impenetrable theorists who themselves shoplifted metaphorically anyway. They deserved their fate."

(Part of the Paper Biennial 2012 exhibit by Alicia Martín via Ignant)