February 26, 2015

Who is abandoning books along a Colorado highway?


Colorado highways: where mystery, books, and blunt guts lie in equal measure. Image via Wikipedia.

Colorado highways: where mystery, books, and blunt guts lie in equal measure. Image via Wikipedia.

A local news station in Boulder County reports that someone (or someones) unknown has been abandoning books. No, not abandoning them like you abandon that copy of Hard Choices you got for Christmas, but actually leaving them on the side of the road  – quite often, too.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Jared Fiel says the stretch of Highway 287 between Arapahoe Road to Jasper Road in Boulder County has been littered with dozens of books on numerous occasions over the last two months.

On Monday, CDOT crews were out again, collecting as many as 50 books by hand. Fiel says the first time they tried to pick them up with a machine, but the books got stuck in the broom of the equipment.

Since December, workers for CDOT have collected 300 books from the median – anywhere from 25 to 50 at a time.

You can see the super-creepy pictures of this incredibly mysterious event here. I’m moving to classify this as one of the most unknown things ever, right up there with the severed feet washing up on the beach and gigantic mysterious stone spheres. It inspires a bouquet of questions. Such as: did the person abandoning these books just not know what to do with them? (Answers: armorfurniture.) Are these someone’s personal collection, or was someone tasked with disposing them and decided to cut corners? If so, who is their employer? Wouldn’t that be a cool opener to a book, where a mysterious stranger tasks you with a seemingly random task (scatter books on a Colorado highway) for some enticing reward? Are we living in a book now? Is this real life?

All kidding aside, it’s not great for the highway workers, who are not doing this job for the free books, and are also in physical danger.

“Sending guys out there in the middle of the median is a safety issue,” Fiel said. “These guys have more important things to do.”

At first, it was romance paperbacks. Now, on the tenth mission to clean up the dropped debris, crews have found a hodge-podge of different titles. “It’s one of those things, it’s very frustrating,” Fiel said.

“One of those things”, indeed – Western stoicism, or a dodge? Does the CDOT know whose books these are? Are they in cahoots? Is this a conspiracy that goes to the highest level? Is that a weed joke?

We in Brooklyn know all about abandoned books – when I pass a brownstone with a box of free books outside, one of my favorite games is “tenant: dead or de-cluttering?” (Hint: if it’s a lot of old textbooks, it’s always always dead.) But this feels like something more sinister. After all, Colorado has such lovely bookstores like Tattered Cover and Boulder Bookstore and Explore – were these books in too poor a condition for donation to these stores? (If not, they are now.) Or are these bookstores involved? Are they dumping stock for some heretofore unknown reason? Will the CDOT provide a comprehensive list of the abandoned titles so that I can search feverishly for some sort of uniting factor – prime numbers in the ISBN, colophon resemblance, similar trim, location of bindery – that might point me in the direction of what I assume is some sort of True-Detective-style thriller that will take decades to solve? Will I get paid for this?

I put it to you, MobyLives readers of Colorado – if you have any idea who (or what) is dumping (or dead-dropping, or strategically arranging) these books, email me at [email protected] The more insane the theory, the better –  as Occam said, “the simplest explanation is stupid. Hashtag legalize it.”


Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.