Books on Stoops

June 17, 2009 | 15 books mentioned 10 2 min read

coverMy wife and I are moving out of the apartment we’ve rented for the last five years and into another apartment in the same neighborhood. The onerous task of culling through our books has fallen to me – perhaps justly, since I’m the one who collected most of the damned things in the first place. My goal is to discard at least two boxes. I’ve been struck, though, by the number of books on my shelves that I found among other people’s discards.

Indeed, hardly a day goes by in Brooklyn that I don’t see a box of cast-off books sitting on a stoop or by a curb, with a “Free – Take Me” sign, or (once) a glow-stick casting its alien light over the offerings. The entire borough, viewed from a certain angle, is like a great rotating library: you take my copy of Mules and Men, I’ll relieve you of your Sense and Sensibility.

What follows, in no particular order, is a catalogue of the 30 books I’ve apparently taken from other people’s stoops over the last five years: a sort of portrait of a certain time and place. I’d be curious to hear about your own finds in the comments box below.

[Image credit: steelight]

is the author of City on Fire and A Field Guide to the North American Family. In 2017, he was named one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists.


  1. That's a really nice collection. I wouldn't let most of those go. Of course, I don't live in a place like Brooklyn.

  2. Living in Carroll Gardens for the past two years, I've picked up several books – but mostly from Saturday stoop sales. The few free books I've found have been excellent:

    Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
    Best Am. Short Stories (1999)
    Samuel Beckett, Watt
    Leonard Michaels, A Girl with a Monkey
    Shalom Auslander, Beware of God
    Fielding, Joseph Andrews
    LeCarre, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

    Your post begs the question: will you be having a stoop sale? If so, would you mind posting the address?

  3. I LOVE it when my neighbors move in and out. I always come across a box or a bag of books that hasn't made the cut to stay or go with them in their moves here and there. I also love walking around and finding books that are curbed for the trashman if no one collects them. There are very few times that I have passed up a good book here or there (and sometimes I've even found a good collection and gone back when I could carry the rest home.)

    You got an awesome assortment there. Good luck going forward!

  4. Heidegger's "Being and Time"
    Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49"
    Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle"
    ..and I've walked by more copies of the "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" than I care to count.

  5. I don't want to be a killjoy, but… I know of people who've really suffered from bedbug infestations; and picking up street items near garbage piles is often the culprit. It's a tough call, though–Garcia Lorca and Leonard Michaels may well be worth the risk.

  6. On one hand, finding these books free in boxes on a stoop is
    wonderful. On the other hand, leaving my books in a box on a
    stoop would feel like abandoning my children to the good will
    of strangers. What about donating books to the local library?

  7. A big ole' stack of Robert Heinlein, about five books or so, and Martin Amis' London Fields. There's got to be more, but I can't think of any now.
    -PT Smith

  8. Here in my apartment building in Manhattan, we have a sort of library down in our basement. It used to be quite active though it has since fallen off quite a bit over the years. It didn't help that the landlord got rid of (or someone stole) the small bookcase that was used for the books. Now they're scattered willy-nilly all over a table.

    Most of them have sat there gathering dust for years. But there have been some choice selections. I've contributed the Pulitzer-winning "The Travels of Jamie McPheeters" (great Western if you've never read it) and a couple of others I can't remember. I've picked up "Madame Bovary," "The Moon and Sixpence," and a bunch of other classics over the years. Still sitting down there is David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest," a bio on JFK Jr., a couple of John Grisham's, and many more.

    For those who don't live in NYC, putting your books out on the stoop may seem odd. As one commenter asked, why NOT take them to the local library? My branch in here in Hells Kitchen has a big sign as you walk in that they are no longer taking any donations. Problem solved for that particular branch. Also, without a car, carting books anywhere farther than the front door of your building becomes not only a chore, but a problem in logistics. (That doesn't even take into account the amount of furniture you can find on the street the night before garbage pickup.

    I remember picking up "A Beautiful Mind" off of someone's stoop. I invariably check out books on the street, whether in a box or sold by a street vendor. I can't help it. Shopping for books, furniture, and all sorts of other things is just part of the neighborhood fabric of living in NYC. Gotta love it.

  9. I don't know now if I could separate the "finds" from the "secondhand" books, but I too collect books as though they were gold. And I leave them at work, at church, at Starbuck's for other people to have as found treasures. Pick them up in various places, too. Even my favorite secondhand book store has a bin outside for books that they don't want on their shelves but many of which have found (temporarily) a place on my shelves.

    I've learned to make a categorization of three types: Those I love for one reason or another and will never give away or sell, though I've often bought another copy to lend. Those I haven't read yet, but will read at least once. and those I've read once and really should give away, since I'll never read them again and they're just gathering dust (and cat hair).

    Now, to find the time to sort…that's another issue altogether.

    [email protected]

  10. Latest finds, in a box on upper Broadway:
    Redmond O'Hanlon's Into the Heart of Borneo and
    Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

    Reformed armchair adventurer? Did he or she pack a bag and run off to the Congo? Or just leave Morningside Heights to a more affordable neighborhood?

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