Bringing Books To Every Man, Woman And Child

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on May 12, 2010 7:00PM

When we heard about the mysterious Book Bike, we got terribly excited. Since books and bikes are two of our most favoritist things, we assumed anything and everything about it must be awesome. We assumed correctly.

For the past two summers, Gabriel Levinson has been riding his custom-built tricycle/bookmobile around Chicago parks, where he gives free books to anyone who wants them. It’s important that the books are accessible to everyone, so you’ll only find the Book Bike in public parks and free events. “’Teach a man to fish' is such a tired maxim. Why can't the common phrase be 'teach a person to read'?" he said in an interview for Shareable last month. He wants to help give everyone the opportunity not only to read, but also to build their own book collections.

Levinson has given away 3,000 books thus far, and now, he’s stepping it up a notch. He's promoting a particular sort of reading material this year, and for the first time, he’s accepting monetary donations instead of books. The Book Bike will only be stocked with magazines, books, and zines purchased from independent bookstores and local presses this summer. Levinson is asking for $1,000 by June 1 to make it happen. Anyone who donates money is entered to win an autographed copy of Dave Eggers’ How We Are Hungry, which comes from his own personal library. “I'm always touting how important it is to share books with people, I can't live by my words any more than this!” he said.

By using the Book Bike to support independent bookstores, Levinson said he hopes more people will start taking action to do the same. It could be as simple as budgeting to buy one new book a month from a local independent bookstore. “Your local bookseller is invested in you,” Levinson said. “They pay taxes in the same community! So buy a book from them and make it a full circle relationship.”

Levinson and the Book Bike can be found mostly around Chicago this summer, but expect to see them traveling sometime in the future. He wants to take the Book Bike on tour so that he can generate the support for independent bookstores nationwide. After a trip to St. Louis last year that involved renting both an SUV and a van and dismantling and reassembling the Book Bike twice, he quickly realized a grand tour will be a “logistical nightmare.” But he gave away 400 books that weekend, and said he doesn’t regret the hassle.

For more information follow the Book Bike blog, @TheBookBike, and of course, donate! The Book Bike needs about $600 more to get rolling this summer.