Last night, as I told you, a storefront project called The Free Book Incident opened its doors. It's a monthlong experiment that imagines a bookstore space where every book on the shelves is free. Dozens of people—it's impossible to count, but well over a hundred—stopped by over the course of the evening. (Find my photo album of the opening night by clicking this link.)
You have to seriously recondition yourself in a bookstore where everything is free. Your first instinct is to grab everything in sight, but then you look around at the other people wandering around and notice that most of the stacks they're carrying are only about a foot high; their restraint becomes your restraint. At the beginning of the evening, there were about two thousand books on the shelves. Many of them were old hardcovers (a gigantic volume of Who's Who from 1982, collections of Chekhov) but some of them were newer paperbacks (a copy of Sex at Dawn, a few thrillers). A lot of the books were biographies of authors and auction catalogs, and someone's library of Asian art books seemed to be exploded around the room. But you didn't know what you could find until you did some serious digging: A cartoonist dug up a graphic design catalog, a poet pushed a copy of an antiquarian bookseller's memoir into my hands.
All the browsers were encouraged to pose for pictures with their books as they left, and to fill out cards explaining which books they took and why. You have to recondition yourself as you leave the Free Book Incident, too—leaving a bookstore without stopping at a cash register first feels especially transgressive and guilt-inducing. From outside, the building looks warm and inviting and alive, which is to say that it looks just like a bookstore.
(The Free Book Incident is in Pioneer Square all month long. It's open daily Monday through Friday from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, and there will also be additional readings in the evenings and afternoons. They're accepting book donations during business hours. If you donate, your book will definitely find a loving reader.)