Though it would surely strike fear in the heart of illegal-newspaper-box-hating Mayor David Miller, a recent trip to Chicago witnessed an act of public art and generosity that our own city would do well to adopt — in spirit if not to the letter itself.
The Logan Square Book Exchange — and more recently, the Logan Square Video Exchange — lies somewhere between guerilla gifting and that innocuous cardboard pile of books left on somebody’s curb for public rifling. Only Ryan Duggan’s idea is more stylish, activistic, and less likely to let all the free books get rained on.
In an article in the Chicago Reader in August 2006, Duggan explained the idea as somewhat of a rational epiphany: a solution to a problem no one had yet noticed, but everyone would appreciate.
“One day I just woke up and thought, if I took one of those boxes and repainted it, I could fit a lot of books in there.”
The appropriated newspaper box, itself a former Reader vessel, sits at the corner of Logan Boulevard and Kedzie Avenues, billing itself as the “Community Book Exchange: Logan Square Branch”. Alongside it sits a newer friend, the Logan Square Video Exchange box — perhaps uglier and more mysterious, but just as enticingly packed full of discarded art and entertainment as its more stylish literary pal.
And how exactly did Duggan install his benevolent art-piece-cum-bit-o’- revolutionary-socialism? He posed as a, uh, newspaper box repairman and temporarily removed the Reader box for “upgrading”, busying himself on a cell phone the whole time. The exchange has continued to thrive since July of last year — and enjoys a healthy turnover of good-quality books and videos that have simply outlasted their owners’ needs and are ready, as the euphemism goes, to move on to new opportunities.
And though it’s true that huge cities on the scale of Chicago may have just that much more room for creativity and an artistic populace that could create such happenings as this — it’s still somehow tiny and heartening to see something like a humble, elegant, book exchange box persist unmolested in the dense metropolitan grid of a city like my hometown. Here’s to more of the same, with branches across Chicago, and beyond it.