An Open Letter To The Shoplifter Caught Stealing My Book

This piece, by John Birmingham, originally appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald site on 2/21/13.

Hey buddy.

How you doin’? Not so well I guess. I’m sorry to hear you got pinched trying to steal one of my books from Dymocks yesterday.

How’d I know that? The magic of the interwebz of course. A Facebook friend was in the store and saw you get nabbed. Ouch. Said you looked like a nice enough young bloke, well dressed, not hard up, but obviously in need of a read and short of the requisite folding stuff.

Have to say, I feel for you. I am surrounded by things I would like but can’t have. A big arse retina Macbook. A credible and properly funded defence policy. That ridiculously expensive whisky on the ep of Nikita I watched last night. ($12,000 a bottle. Can you believe that?)

I don’t know whether you went into Dymocks looking to steal my book in particular, but I’d like to think so. It’s an odd, left-handed compliment in a way, to have written something you wanted so much you couldn’t wait until you had the money to pay for it. You, me, the Department of Defence, we all know all about that my friend.

Still, you know, you could have gone to your local library. I get a shekel or two for every one of my books borrowed, and I like local libraries. I encourage you to support them. You could have got it second hand. Do you like second hand book stores? I love them.

There is something about a teetering pile of pre-loved literature that brings something weird and extra to the space in which we find it. For all that I love a good book store, I love a secondhand bookstore even more. It’s only partly because I’m a cheap bastard. In the end, books, writing, are the magic by which we share ideas across time and space. When you enter a secondhand bookstore you enter a realm where that shared experience exists not just in its potential form, but where it has already happened. You gotta love that.

I say this as somebody who loses money because cheap bastards like me buy the sort of books written by authors like me in a sort of dingy secondhand bookstores haunted by me.

Read the rest of the piece on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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