Wheelin' and dealin'
The race to bring books to Chicagoans begins on a bicycle.
For the past two years, St. Louis native Gabriel Levinson—who is also the reviews editor of Make: A Chicago Literary Magazine and associate editor for the online journal Is Greater Than—has been trying to figure out a way to bridge the gap between writers and readers in a non-book-signing atmosphere.
Levinson hopes to accomplish that feat with the “book bike,” a new facet of his online literary initiative Something to Read (somethingtoread.net). He’ll pedal around Chicago parks on the weekends giving away new books. And all onlookers have to do is stop the bike—actually a custom-made tricycle—and take a peek at the gold mine of books.
“There’s such a strong support amongst all the independent presses and the readings, but it’s a lot of the same people,” Levinson says. “I want to have a forum where readers are just as vital to the scene as booksellers, publishers or the writers. The book bike brings that in.”
Haley Tricycles (haleytrikes.com), a Philadelphia-based, custom-tricycle-making business, constructed the book bike especially for this project. Musician Stephen Horcha—who started the business after trying to figure out a way to move his drums around Savannah, Georgia, using the power of the pedal—has created tricycles for folks around the country. Horcha and Levinson collaborated via e-mail and phone to create the tricycle, which has two platforms and a shelf inside that can fit three levels of books weighing in at up to 200 pounds.
The book bike functions much like a roving version of the Logan Square “free book” newsstand, where passersby can reach in and grab a book, or just donate one; but instead of giving away and taking in used books, Levinson will pass along new ones donated by both local and national independent publishers, such as Drawn & Quarterly, McSweeney’s, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Dark Horse, Soft Skull Press and Chicago’s own Lake Claremont Press.
“The more independent press I can get involved, the better,” Levinson says. “The response from publishers has been fantastic—I’ve got this mountain of books in my apartment.” Inside each book, readers will find a book plate with Something To Read’s Web address, which leads to SToRies Magazine, an online literary journal featuring Chicago writers that will debut soon. Levinson wants to focus the journal on interviews with Chicago writers, publishers, booksellers, librarians, editors and literary agents; plus he’ll include essays exploring the crafts of reading and writing in Chicago, publishing, bookselling and library science.
In this way, Levinson’s project encompasses both an analog and digital element—functioning both off- and online—to create something that bridges the Internet and “real life.” This resonates with Horcha (the tricycle’s builder), who notes that many newspapers, magazines and even books are migrating to a digital format. “Being in a park somewhere and having someone give you a book—it might change your whole life,” Horcha says.
After the initial launch date, Levinson plans to continue pedaling around town just as long as it isn’t raining, sleeting or snowing. And when he says he’ll be around, we believe him; this guy is committed to books: “My greatest love in life is reading books,” Levinson says. “And even more than that is sharing books with people, so I really wanted to figure out [a way to] get books into peoples’ hands.”
Levinson is currently pedaling books in Wicker Park.