February 11, 2022

E17 book box stays another day following spruce-up


Mini library in Walthamstow, E17, London: looking fresh. (Image: Tom Clayton)

Difficult to stay positive about the world these days, isn’t it? A whole pandemic, the creeping rise of far-right nationalism, a cost of living crisis unprecedented in modern times, etc. Sigh. And the publishing world isn’t much better. One of the key battlegrounds in the UK’s never-ending and often pointlessly damaging culture wars, the bitter confrontations over weekly author cancellations and “freedom of speech” can sometimes make our industry feel like one big argument.

It’s a psychological trudge, and it has been for a while. That’s why, each Thursday for the last couple of years—and there’s a strong chance you have not noticed this—I’ve tried to bring you the positive, uplifting or otherwise non-awful stories from the world of books via this blog. As the great poet Celine Dion once said “Life imposes things on you that you can’t control, but you still have the choice of how you’re going to live through this.” I choose to write about the good people.

Here’s another one:

Book boxes are the community craze that has taken over countless neighbourhoods across the globe in recent years. Cute, often house-shaped receptacles dotted at the side of the road where one (specifically me, all the time) can drop off your unwanted tomes in exchange for new ones – for free! And now that, thanks to home-working, many of us are spending more time in our local areas, the book box boom continues to grow.

One box in my area (Walthamstow, East London) has been in need of repair for some time. Over the past year it had begun to fall into disrepair, its roof cracking and falling apart, its doors hanging off its hinges, and its few remaining books becoming weather-beaten and unreadable.

It was a sorry state, until a few weeks ago, a note appeared from the box’s de facto owner, taped to the front. It asked if anyone would be able to repair the box—which had belonged to the house’s previous resident—as the new owner didn’t possess any tools for the job. (I considered fixing it up myself, before concluding I would almost definitely make things worse.)

The note worked: this week an anonymous handyperson took up the challenge, repairing the box and giving it a new roof, reinstating its doors and giving it a fresh lick of fetching lilac paint.

Finally, a new note appeared, again from the box’s custodian:

Thank you so much!!! The mini library looks so beautiful! I couldn’t have imagined this amount of kindness, with the perfect purple paint too.

It’s nice when a story like this ends up (literally) on your doorstep. But I’ll continue seeking out and reporting here on kind book folks from all over the globe. So if you have any similar stories, I’d love to read them. I need this stuff at the moment; I’m pretty sure we all do.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.