The sweat licked my brow as I waited for the blinking hand to transform into the green man of safety. The sun was unrelenting, chasing me down the boiling sidewalks as the clouds refused to claim me for themselves. Trees offered meager respite here and there, their giggling shadows more taunting than useful. My shirt was wetter than my lips, my hair a mess of sweaty tendrils. The foreign city, with cars that had peaches on their license plates, whisked past me, kicking up soot into my face. No one stopped for anything—not for pedestrians, almost-red yellow lights, or time. I clutched my purse, the skinny book digging into my waist through the thin material. That 150-page story—an allegorical fairytale more like—was the reason for this two-mile journey of newness. The humidless air was kind to my pathetic hair, breathing its dry heave as I traveled further into Buckhead. Sydney Marcus to Lindberg Lane to Lindberg Drive. The main streets of Atlanta pushed me further, deeper, into the recesses of newfound wealth and BMWs. At last, the upward sloping street—hillier than anything I had witnessed in Florida—peeped its lopsided sign at the end of Lindberg Drive: Springdale Road. I crossed the street in haste, narrowly avoiding a speeding Lexus as I did so, and was enveloped by two story mansions and manicured roses. My thighs burned, the tendons straining to their maximum like a wishbone ripping in two. Sweat clustered around my nose and upper lip, my sunglasses slipping on my face like soap. But I kept walking further, ascending the mountain of Buckhead. The GPS draining my phone battery blinked to completion, the words “You have reached your destination” sweeter than Southern iced tea.
My eyes dragged to the right, resting on a birdhouse perched upon a thick rod. Inside, volumes of books were stuffed inside the darkened wood instead of birdfeed. Book covers—some dusty and torn, others spitting with shine—beckoned me from the ritzy street and I approached the Little Free Library. I looked around surreptitiously, wondering if some Duke or Duchess of Buckhead would yell at me for defiling their perfect lawn. But the street was quiet, the only sound being the twiddling birds and workmen laying bricks on a roof. I opened the birdhouse, taking The Pearl by Steinbeck out of my purse at the same time. I realized my humble classic was nothing like the books looming out of the shady house—they boasted biblical titles, parental guide books, and a few children’s books doodled all over. I was disappointed. I didn’t want to exchange a priceless Steinbeck for a few denouncing sermons some 19th century, Dimmesdale-like preacher had raged. I didn’t want The Lightning Thief with the name “Thomas Percy” squiggled on the front in a thousand different kid signatures.
But something caught my eye—it was almost as slim as The Pearl with a cover flashing bright red and muted orange. I slipped the book out of the wordy birdhouse—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I humfed an exclamation of pleasure. Yes, this was the gem I had fantasized about in my wild daydreams of Plath, Dostoyevsky, Lovecraft, and Brӧnte. A curious Mark Twain, as little known as his Samuel Clemens name and not nearly as famous as Huckleberry Finn. I grabbed the Twain from the shelf, ditching the Bible books and a few vampire slayer novels for a breath of classic. I was a literary snob and I knew it, but when confronted with age-defiant beauty and real words of talent, what was I to choose? I turned around, getting whistled at by a young recycle truck driver at the same time, and stared ahead. The swanky road of Greek garden statues and petunias trundled down the slope, dragging Georgian quaintness with it. It was another two miles back to my one-bedroom sandwich. The sun was still salty and petulant, the wind a little deader. But I had a Twain laced between my fingers, and I was content.
That’s the story of my Little Library adventure! I drove by it the day I moved to Atlanta and was bewitched by the panoply of free literature. I did walk four miles just to snag the unknown (a Twain, as it turned out), but I would repeat the steamy trek a thousand times over. My Little Free Library—whose motto is “Take a Book: Return A Book”—is a grassroots effort to spread literacy in communities. Essentially a free book exchange, patrons can stock the birdhouses with a variety of novels (a mini residential library). Their website even has a map to locate the nearest Little Library near you. Libraries can be built by hand or purchased on their site (although they tend to run on the pricier end of $200-$350). What are your Little Free Library stories?