Saturday, June 23, 2018
Books

Valentine-themed Love Lit a fundraiser for Open Book Exchange

If you've been on foot in downtown St. Petersburg or Safety Harbor in the last few months, you might have noticed a whimsical, brightly colored box filled with books — with a sign encouraging you to take one for free.

Those boxes are the first of many, Mitzi Gordon hopes, in the Open Book Exchange. Gordon says she likes projects "at the intersection of books and art," and the Tampa writer, artist, curator and consultant created just such an intersection in 2011, when she founded Bluebird Books. The converted bus — part book shop, part art house — has shown up at events around Tampa Bay.

In 2012 she began a more stationary project: the Open Book Exchange. Gordon says she got the idea from the Little Free Library of Wisconsin, an organization that creates sturdy birdhouse-style boxes that are set up in public places and filled with donated books. The idea is that people can take a book to read for free and, perhaps, donate a book to replace it. "Their original goal was to have more libraries than Carnegie," Gordon says. Now there are thousands around the world.

"When I checked in mid 2012, there were only three in Florida," Gordon says, and she thought the boxes might get a good reception in the Tampa Bay area. "It's a community-building project. It's about the people and interaction as much as the books and reading."

She came up with a prototype and entered a grant competition sponsored by Creative Loafing. "I didn't win, but I received just so much warm response and support" that she built a couple of the boxes on her own. A friend, Tampa architect and artist Mishou Sanchez, developed a template for the boxes, and Gordon aimed for using reclaimed and recycled materials as much as possible.

One of the first two book boxes stands in front of [email protected], at 620 First Ave. S in downtown St. Petersburg. Another perches at the Whimzey House, an artists' residence and event space at 1206 Third St. N in Safety Harbor. Gordon, who monitors the boxes, says both are getting plenty of use. "People donate, and the books go right out. Sometimes they're half or a quarter full." Other times, she says, they're "stuffed to the gills" after a big donation. Always, there's an element of surprise and discovery.

Originally, Gordon hoped to have a half a dozen of the boxes, "three in St. Pete, three in Tampa." But now, given the response, she says, "Why put a number on it?"

She is now "midway through construction on boxes three and four," and in discussions with several entities in Tampa about where those will be placed. In keeping with the idea of books intersecting with art, Gordon is working with St. Petersburg artist Hunter Payne on design.

Expanding the number of boxes is the reason for Love Lit, a Valentine-themed fundraiser for the Open Book Exchange that will take place tonight at Tempus Projects, a Seminole Heights art gallery. Gordon received a lot of donated books last year, including a number of handsome, large-format art books. "You can't put them in a book box because they're too big," so the centerpiece of Love Lit will be a silent auction of the books, which will be artfully displayed.

"It's another way to treat the book as an object, to put them on a pedestal," she says. "Love, lust and eye-candy are our primary themes." Some of the books are racy, others "on the sweeter side."

The event will include book-themed decor — paper-heart garlands made from old books — and a paper craft station where people can make their own Valentines. It will also feature "Captive Poet" David Durney, working at a vintage typewriter. "You can give him a donation and a two-word prompt, and he'll write a poem for you on the spot."

Gordon hopes Love Lit will raise funds to help the Open Book Exchange grow into other neighborhoods around the bay, bringing book lovers together. The ways that people read are changing, she says, and the book boxes are "a way to hang on to all these tangible treasures" and share them at the same time.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.

Comments
Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Grief can unhinge us, disconnect us from our daily lives, make us do things we’ve never done. Grief made Tessa Fontaine run away and join the circus.To be more exact, the sideshow: World of Wonders, the last traditional traveling sideshow in the coun...
Published: 06/21/18
5 fiction writers who've turned their attention to Donald Trump

5 fiction writers who've turned their attention to Donald Trump

He might not have intended it, but Donald Trump has been good for book publishing.
Published: 06/15/18
What’s Neal Thompson, author of ‘Kickflip Boys,’ reading?

What’s Neal Thompson, author of ‘Kickflip Boys,’ reading?

Neal ThompsonFor Father’s Day, we checked in with Neal Thompson from his Seattle office. In his new book, Kickflip Boys, Thompson weaves together a story on raising his two independent, passionate sons while giving us an honest look at the underbelly...
Published: 06/15/18
What is Jen Waite, author of the memoir

What is Jen Waite, author of the memoir "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing," reading?

Jen Waite It is June. Romance and weddings are in the air, and with that comes the paperback release of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite, 33. The book, based on Waite’s heartbreaking wedding story, fi...
Updated one month ago
Review: Jake Tapper’s ‘Hellfire Club’ a fictional thriller sharpened with real 1950s politics

Review: Jake Tapper’s ‘Hellfire Club’ a fictional thriller sharpened with real 1950s politics

Washington, D.C., is a city in crisis, the operations of the federal government all but paralyzed by the conspiracy theories of a powerful politician who behaves as if the bounds of protocol and decency don’t apply to him. As he distracts the nation,...
Updated one month ago
What’s Helen Rappaport reading?

What’s Helen Rappaport reading?

Helen RappaportWhile delving into archives and researching her new book about the murder of the Russian imperial family 100 years ago, The Race to Save the Romanovs, Rappaport celebrated the digital age. "I am able to go back so far in time and look ...
Updated one month ago
Review: Lauren Groff’s ‘Florida’ explores a state beyond the boundaries

Review: Lauren Groff’s ‘Florida’ explores a state beyond the boundaries

In "Flower Hunters," one of the stories in Lauren Groff’s stunning new book Florida, a character gets a reader’s crush on 18th century explorer William Bartram, an early chronicler of the state’s flora and fauna: "She’s most d...
Updated one month ago
Notable: Books for the beach

Notable: Books for the beach

NotableBooks for the beachSuit up: It’s time for a few new books built for vacation reading.By Invitation Only (William Morrow) by Dorothea Benton Frank is the latest serving of Frank’s trademark warm humor and engaging characters, set around two wed...
Updated one month ago
Judy Blundell brings on summertime on Long Island in ‘High Season’

Judy Blundell brings on summertime on Long Island in ‘High Season’

NightstandJudy BlundellSince it’s Memorial Day weekend, we decided to touch base with Judy Blundell, whose new book is High Season. The novel’s protagonist is Ruthie Beamish, director of a small museum who, to make ends meet, rents out her seaside ho...
Updated one month ago

Events: Pulitzer winner Jack Davis to discuss ‘The Gulf’ at Oxford Exchange

Book TalkUniversity of Florida historian Jack E. Davis (The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea) will discuss and sign his Pulitzer Prize-winning book at 1 p.m. May 27 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Admission $5, applicable towar...
Updated one month ago