Think about the last time you were in a giant chain bookstore, with its aisles of best-sellers, its huge children’s section, its walls of mysteries and rooms of romances. It’s got all the classics, along with stacks of photo and art books you can flip through, page-turners that will keep you up all night, books you will read through in one sitting, business books, self-help books, spiritual books, how-to books — something for everyone.
Picture that store and how much time you spent there, and how much money you spent when you left. Now, imagine if all the books in that store were free!
Every Danielle Steel novel, every David Baldacci and James Patterson thriller, everything ever written by Nora Roberts, Maeve Binchy, Tony Hillerman, Nevada Barr, Louis L’Amour and Alexander McCall Smith — absolutely free. All you have to do is pick out what you like, stick it under your arm and walk out the door. No buzzers go off, no security guard chases you down the street screaming, “Stop! Shoplifter!”
Have expensive tastes? Crave that $65 unabridged audiobook of the new J.K. Rowling? Want to listen to it in your car on your way to work, but haven’t got the scratch? Want to hear the new Jack Reacher thriller or the “Game of Thrones” series before you see it on TV? Take it, it’s yours. Thanks, buh-bye. Come back again soon.
Sick of reading the same old wormy bedtime story to Junior over and over and over and over and over? The free bookstore stocks hundreds of newly published children’s books each year. Got a Harry Potter fan in your house? The free bookstore has a young adult section with hundreds of fresh, new stories as modern as an iWatch. Walk in, grab what you like, walk out. Why not? They’re free.
You want to learn how to debug your computer? Make a quilt? Build a treehouse? Want to know what plants will live in microclimate Zone 6a in your backyard? Was the real “Wild Bill” Hickock anything like they portrayed him in the show “Deadwood”? It’s all in the free books in the nonfiction section.
If there’s a book you want that’s not in the free bookstore, they’ll find a copy from another free bookstore in another town and deliver it to the store nearest you. You don’t even have to leave your house to order a book. You can browse the free bookstore on your computer at home and have them save or order free books for you. Or you can just call the free bookstore and they’ll do it for you. The store even has free high-speed Internet connections and free Wi-Fi for laptop users.
I know what you’re thinking: If everything in this bookstore is free, there must be some gimmick, like you have to take a tour of some cheesy timeshare, or you have to buy a bunch of scented candles that you really don’t need. Or maybe you have to donate money to some wacky fringe group selling “I Brake for Sasquatch” bumper stickers.
But there is no gimmick; there is no catch.
How far would you drive for a store like that, a place giving away free books? A hundred miles? Eighty miles? Fifty? Would you believe there’s a place like that right here in town? Of course, you do have to sign up for a library card, which takes, oh, about a minute. Or you can keep going to that giant bookstore that charges $26.95 plus tax for the same book the library will let you read for free. Hmmm. Talk about a tough choice. Not.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.