SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Who's stealing the Beats and, for that matter, Hemingway and Fitzgerald? The Boston Globe alerted us this week that bookstores have reported the authors whose works are most often stolen from their shelves include Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski and others known for writing a little on the wild side. So they've had to take measures to protect those books. We've reached one of the victims, David Sandberg of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass.
Mr. Sandberg, thanks so much for being with us.
DAVID SANDBERG: Thanks for talking with us.
SIMON: Tell us about this crime wave. What's going on?
SANDBERG: Well, we had noticed, even starting a few years ago, that from time to time, entire sections of a shelf would be gone, not one or two titles but everything we had in a particular author. And it seemed to be recurring with the same authors, the ones you mentioned - Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Vonnegut, Kerouac, Bukowski. And once, we put up a display in our store of most stolen books...
SANDBERG: ...Which people found quite humorous and entertaining but continued to steal the books. And eventually, we just had to put them behind the counter where we can watch over them a little more closely.
SIMON: And I'm sure you've run this through your mind - why those authors, do you think?
SANDBERG: Well, everyone has different theories. I think the most cynical - and probably likely one - is that these are inexpensive paperbacks. It's not people stealing valuable, expensive books. But they're probably the easiest to resell. They get assigned in high schools and colleges, of which we have a lot around here. And our assumption is people can go on eBay or whatever and sell them easily, so they're the most useful to them.
SIMON: So you don't think they're avid readers who are merely impoverished?
SANDBERG: Well, I have heard one theory that I wish were true, which was that these are being stolen by people who want to mimic their authors and think that - well, Kerouac would have walked into a bookstore and stolen books, so maybe I should, too.
SIMON: What steps do you take to try and discourage this theft?
SANDBERG: Well, in general, we've tried to, you know, do - put in things like video monitors. At one point, we explored having a detective, and that was expensive. So we do the same thing that any...
SIMON: I'm sorry. Did you say a detective?
SANDBERG: We did. We talked to a couple other local bookstores about sharing the expense of having someone - because we all have the same problem. So...
SIMON: I mean, I'm just imagining a "Philip Marlowe" story. You know, I was working Porter Books.
SANDBERG: But his books don't get stolen. That's the thing.
SANDBERG: So we do things to try to deter theft in general. But for these particular books, we literally took all the titles we have by those five authors - Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac and Vonnegut. we put them behind the front desk. We put little notes on the shelves where they would appear alphabetically saying, if you're looking for these books, come to the desk. And then, completely fortuitously, one of our employees was clearing out his mom's house and found a life-sized cardboard cutout statue of John Wayne. So we put him behind the books...
SANDBERG: ...To defend them. And since then, they can't get...
SIMON: I'll bet that works.
SANDBERG: It totally - well, it works for those guys. They don't get stolen anymore.
SIMON: So for some titles, they have to ask at the desk. It's kind of like - forgive me - Cialis.
SANDBERG: Right. (Laughter) Fortunately, it's not quite as embarrassing to ask for. But...
SIMON: (Laughter) I must say, of course, I've - we've both had a few laughs about this. But for an independent bookseller, this is no laughing matter, is it?
SANDBERG: No. You know, every book that someone picks up and puts in their bag without paying for it is money out of our pocket. But you do wish that people would think about that a little bit more.
SIMON: David Sandberg of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., thanks so much for being with us. And good luck to you, sir.
SANDBERG: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF PABLIE'S "SOUL DRIVERS")
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