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Intersections – The Broken Bookshelf

D'ish Decatur

Intersections – The Broken Bookshelf

Nicki Salcedo


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.