Pinching Books: U.K. Booksellers Tell All

Although "books are not generally a go-to item for thieves seeking high-value spoils," the Guardian reported that booksellers around the U.K. said "thieving is still a problem."

Theft is "part and parcel of what it is to be a bookseller--a certain percentage of books will wander off, and over time you know what they'll be," said Waterstones CEO James Daunt, who noted in particular a penchant for Kierkegaard, perhaps due to the character Renton in Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting. "You slightly wonder when it's always books by the likes of Sartre and Kierkegaard--there must be an awful lot of people working their minds out so much that they don't have any money. Whenever I'd go past Kierkegaard, I'd make sure they and Wittgenstein were all there, but often the odd one or two would be gone and it always made me smile."

Noting that thieves have an "ongoing love" for Tolkien--the shop's local author--as well as other fantasy staples, David Kelly of Blackwell's in Oxford said, "Books on GCSE and A-level reading lists are also always popular--we had a stage of keeping Cormac McCarthy's The Road behind the till to limit theft. One spring saw 15 taken from our shelves."

At the London Review Bookshop, John Clegg noted that philosophers are popular: "Our most-stolen authors, in order, are Baudrillard, Freud, Nietzsche, Graham Greene, Lacan, Camus, and whoever puts together the Wisden Almanack. The appetite for Greene (which seems to have died down a little now) was particularly surprising, but I suppose they identify with Pinkie."

Daunt observed that the "professional thief, rather than the shoplifter, will go for higher-value items."

The Guardian also noted that several stores reported "customers are more likely to leave behind a little extra for those who follow in their footsteps. Warwick Books says that it has had people hiding £5 notes in books, while Taylor, who now works at Chepstow Books and Gifts, says he has had a customer buy a book token and leave it behind in his favourite book "so that whoever bought it would have a bonus book to read.... Thankfully most readers are very honest and are keen for bookshops to stay in business."

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