An open letter to the shoplifter caught stealing my book

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.

There is a price to be paid for that shared experience of course. It's a tactile price. You feel it in the way the spine of a secondhand book has already been broken. You see it in the creases of dog-eared pages, and the thumb marks where previous readers were less diligent than they should have been when reading while eating chocolate biscuits. Part of the charm of a used book, is the way the artifact degrades as it passes from hand to hand. Eventually, it is gone. Altogether vanished like a dream, to quote the words carved in the sandstone in the foyer of the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

It is why even authors, or maybe especially authors, love secondhand bookstores. The life and death of a book is all there.

And they’re cheap, dude. Cheaper than the quids you’re about to drop on legals and fines and, since time is money, the community service they’ll probably make you do.

I hope it’s only community service.

Maybe you could do it in a library.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that although I don’t encourage people to steal my books, because I have a lot of friends in the book selling biz, and they’re the ones who suffer, I do have some sympathy for you.

I don’t know why you decided to trouser Angels of Vengeance. I think it’s a good book, but the judges at the Nobel Committee didn’t agree. (Damn you Vargas Llosa. Damn you to hell).

I guess I’m sort of sympathetic to your plight because you didn’t torrent the e-book and try to pass that off as brave reimagining of the content distribution paradigm.

I’d like to think you were a student, maybe on your way to or coming back from a job interview. Hence the swish threads. I’d like to think if you’d enjoyed the book that you might have recommended it to someone else. Got me a sale.

If I had any influence with Dymocks I’d ask them not to press charges, but I’d ask you to spend a day working in that store to understand that you weren’t stealing from me – seriously, I still get paid – but you were actually putting your hand into the pocket of somebody else who has just as much trouble putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head as you do. They love books too.

You don’t owe me anything, but you should probably say sorry to them.

And honestly, if you want the thing that much, I can send you a copy. I’ll even sign it.


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