The Writer's Life

Real Book Thieves: Most Commonly Stolen Books

The Book Thief coming out later this year sparked an interest in me to find out which books are most commonly stolen from libraries and bookstores. I began researching, and my findings have been quite interesting. Which book holds the record for being the book most often stolen from public libraries? Take a guess. It’s the Guinness Book of Records. No joke. In 2013, Marino Massimo De Caro, former director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, pulled off one of the most dramatic thefts ever to hit the rare-book world when volumes of centuries-old editions by the likes of Aristotle, Descartes, Galileo, and Machiavelli disappeared. So, what are the most frequently stolen books? Believe it or not, the books most often lifted from libraries are quite different than those taken from bookstores.

The Most Stolen Books From Libraries:

  1. As I stated above, The Guinness Book of Records tops the list.
  2. The Bible. I can’t make this stuff up. People believe that the Word of God should be free. I guess people don’t realize the whole point of a library.
  3. Exam Prep Books. You name the exam, the prep book gets stolen. People steal these because they require extensive practice at home, and many times it takes longer than the library check out period allows. The most interesting: law enforcement officers training manuals are among the most commonly stolen exam prep books.
  4. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and other racy books/magazines, including art books with nude photos/paintings, Kama Sutra manuals, and erotica novels. This makes a little bit more sense – people are embarrassed to check these types of books out. Believe it or not, people tend to actually rip out pages with sexy illustrations on them and stash them instead of checking out the book.
  5. Art Books. Expensive art books can net a pretty penny when sold on eBay.
  6. Reference Books/Books on University Reading Lists/Textbooks. These are typically expensive to buy, and starving college students need them for much longer than the library check out period allows.
  7. Books About the Abnormal. Paranormal activity. UFOs. Witchcraft. Abortion. Astrology. Nazi-era material. And…Islam?

The Most Stolen Books from Bookstores:

  1. Anything by Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs. Book sellers tend to keep books by these authors behind the counter because they get swiped so often.
  2. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. If you notice a theme here, Bukowski, Burroughs, and Kerouac books all share, shall I put it bluntly, content of sex and drugs. It seems that those most likely to commit a reckless act (stealing) are also interested in reading about reckless acts.
  3. Graphic Novels. The majority of book thieves are young, white males, and this is what they read.
  4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Which was actually one of the most commonly stolen books long before the movie came out.
  5. Various Selections from Ernest Hemingway, including A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.
  6. Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. David Sedaris? Really?
  7. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. I wouldn’t have thought this was the stuff of the five-finger discount.

Honorable Mentions for Bookstores: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman, The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, anything by Martin Amis.

Lesson Learned: library theft leans more toward the practical than the popular, whereas bookstore theft leans toward the popular. Brooke Gladstone sums up this lesson quite nicely in NPR’s On the Media:

“One place where the book thief is more likely to read what he hath took is the public library, and library theft tends to lean toward the practical more than the popular; news you can use, so to speak – how-to books ranging from auto repair to divorce, how to ace the GEDs and The Joy of Sex, also anything – and this is from libraries across the country – anything to do with witchcraft, the occult, UFOs or astrology. And there are some other popular choices for the kleptomaniacally-inclined – the Bible, for instance.”

There you have it. The most stolen books. Who would have thought?

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