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Most Stolen Products: "Hipster" Books

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By railing against The Man, anti-establishment writers have influenced the theft of their own work.

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Of all the beasts in the adolescent jungle, the bookworm is the most pitiful animal. A life largely spent holed up indoors, shunned by peers, bookworms find refuge and solace in the lives of fictional and autobiographical characters. Their heroes are renegade space cowboys and hard-nosed gumshoes. Vampires and hobbits, their friends. These literary addicts further their social maladjustment by cutting themselves off from human interaction while developing their mental ability beyond their years. They're labeled nerds, geeks, losers, freaks. Naturally, to counteract bookworms' feelings of inadequacy, they emulate the disposition of the cool, uncaring rebels from their favorite stories. Greet "phonies" with a scowl, maybe take up smoking.

And, of course, they have to steal that copy of Naked Lunch.

Little do they know, however, that their self-ascribed individuality is the very basis of the beat and hipster generation. And their acts of petty theft, as well as their taste in literature, is as common as the "plebes" they're rebelling against.

The New York Times chronicled the most popular book titles that end up in the pockets and backpacks of shoplifters. The author rundown represents a cheat sheet of 1960s anti-establishment Bohemia: Burroughs, Kerouac, Bukowski, Carver. In the heart of the beat movement -- Manhattan's East Village -- St. Mark's Bookshop moved the oft-stolen titles behind the register, on a shelf dubbed the X-Case. A few blocks south on Prince Street, bookseller Brook Stephenson gave a similar list to The Awl, but with a few curious standouts.

Paul Auster's New York Trilogy was one of the titles moved behind the counter. "I never thought Paul Auster was five-finger discount stuff," Stephenson confessed. Another odd choice, David Sedaris. His essay collections Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day were among the most swiped.

"Yeah, I don't understand that one," Stephenson told The Awl.

Rounding out the relocated books were Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises, and all of Fitzgerald's works.

If you notice that nearly all of these selections skew toward males and their interests, you're not mistaken. Zack Zook, general manager of Brooklyn shop BookCourt, finds that the majority of book thieves are younger males. "They think it's an existential rite of passage to steal their homeboy," Zook told the Times. Neil Strandberg, the manager of operations at the Tattered Cover in Denver, concurred. "Our arrest record is very male," he said.

That record might also include a couple authors, too. A manager of a shop in Boulder, Colorado, reported that one writer was caught pilfering one of his own titles. Christopher Ohman told the Times, "I think he felt somewhat entitled to the copies. In some ways I can kind of understand that logic. I mean, it's a commonly held misconception that authors get as many copies of their books as they want, and that's not always the case." But he added the author's trouble with booze may have been a contributor to the crime.

Interestingly enough, Abbie Hoffman's infamous Steal This Book didn't make any bookseller's most swiped list. One title, however, would raise some eyebrows.

When asked what he believed to be the most stolen book title, owner of Austin's BookPeople Steve Bercu said, without hesitation, the Bible. He explained to the Times that, despite the work's entreaty to not steal, "Some people think the word of God should be free."

Well, at least it gives the Gideons something to do.
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