The artists’ book “How to shoplift books” by David Horvitz is a guide on how to steal books. It details 80 ways in which one can steal a book, from the very practical, to the witty, imaginative, and romantic.
“Hide the book inside a fake rock.”
This textbook is readable, but also shamelessly draws attention to its existence as an object, a conversation starter, a thing that can be acquired by fair means or foul. This is a book that turns a point of sale display into an intellectual and ethical adventure.
The work is romantic and anachronistic: as our primary source for buying books becomes impersonal online shops (that pretend to deliver a personal experience) it is almost impossible to spontaneously steal anything, and the act of disobedience becomes a story of the past. Horvitz’ compendium of delightfully written performance instructions is a collection of modern culture scripts and is, so to speak, writing history.
“Cook up some garlic in olive oil in the store. Exit with the book while everyone is caught in the ecstasy of the aroma.”
A comprehensive guide to stealing books with its price printed on the cover, clearly visible, provokes the visitor of a bookshop to become aware of the unconscious decisions, pre-empted by others, that we make every day. The poetic, funny and paradoxical texts also bring to light some structural elements of the mechanics of bookselling and our relation to the exchange of goods. It inserts friction into the conditioned behaviour we display when we are moving through commercial spaces. All advertising tells us to buy things, we rarely come across a message encouraging us to steal – especially not one with the authority that print still carries.
“Fill a bag with the books you want. Make it heavier than you can carry. Ask an employee to help you carry it outside.”
Maybe this publication provides some real options: Buy the book for only 9.99 and then save a lot of money on books in the future with all the skills you can learn with this guide? Steal the book because it is declaring that it’s okay to steal books (although it doesn’t)? Or use it as a device to create a conversation about the power of analogue media, and perhaps decide to support the artists, authors, designers, publishers, printers, distributors and bookshops, and just buy more books?
“Smash a hole in the store’s window. Throw the book through the hole.”