Pedaling books, sharing appreciation

By HermineBloom

There’s no catch. Take a free book from Gabriel Levinson’s custom-built tricycle in the middle of, say, Oz Park this summer. Ask him about the author or the publication—he’ll surely know a great deal. Read it or give it to a friend; Levinson is

not judging.

The St. Louis native and bibliophile developed a project in July 2008 called the Book Bike because he said he believes everyone has the right to develop his or her own personal library. Weather permitting, he rides a cargo tricycle stocked with 200 pounds of books with the intention of giving the books to city dwellers for no cost.

Up until now, independent publishers such as McSweeney’s, Dark Horse Comics and Drawn & Quarterly have donated books to the project for the sake of spreading appreciation for independent publishing, inspiring people to read and hopefully gain new, informed customers. However, this financial model, or lack thereof, was not ideal, Levinson explained.

“How do I know if someone who takes a book is going to go out and buy a book?” Levinson asked. “That’s my hope, but I had no way of knowing that. That hope is nice but not necessarily as much of an impact as I want to have with this project.”

The new focus of the Book Bike relies on donations, whereas prior to this summer, Levinson would refuse them on-site. Now, he’s encouraging people to donate money directly to him so he can buy books from local, independent booksellers or directly from the independent publishing houses themselves, he said.

Levinson is the reviews editor of Make: A Chicago Literary Magazine, associate editor for the online journal “Is Greater Than” and developed an online literary iniative “Something To Read.” The Book Bike project falls under the “Something To Read” umbrella.

This summer, publishers such as Electric Literature, Featherproof Books and Parking Block Publishing, will donate their last books to the project. The next time Levinson writes to them, he said he will be asking for a subscription for the Book Bike as a result of the donation money he’s received.

“I keep learning that the simpler you make something, the more interesting it will be,” Levinson said. “That seems to boggle peoples’ minds. [People ask], ‘What are you doing here?’ [I say], ‘Just giving away books. Take one home.’ And they don’t know what to do!”

The heart of the project has to do with inspiring people to read and value books, which is why founder of Chicago-based Parking Block Publishing, Tim Pigott , chose to donate books to the Book Bike in the first place.

Pigott, 34, said he met Levinson at an art show they were both involved in about a year ago. Parking Block Publishing does small runs of art-centered books about artists and photographers, involving both fiction and nonfiction work. Described as collectables, Pigott said his incentive for donating the work he’s publishing stems from reaching people who might never have seen the books otherwise.

“I really hope that maybe someone who hadn’t thought of it would see that and be like, ‘Hey I could do that and maybe I could do something even better,’” Pigott said.

Approximately 80 percent of the individual donations, either through the Book Bike’s Web site or giving the money directly to Levinson, will be invested in books and zines for the Book Bike, whereas 20 percent will go toward maintaining the bike.

Stephen Horcha, the man behind Philadelphia-based Haley Tricycles, built the Book Bike in spring 2008.

Typically, 32-year-old Horcha said his custom tricycles take roughly three weeks to build. Haley Tricycles began when Horcha had trouble transporting his drum set using a Volkswagen beetle in 2003, which lead him to construct his own cargo tricycle.

Horcha designed the Book Bike tricycle to fit the needs of Levinson’s project by building shelves and compartments for standard-sized books. Many of the other projects the two-man operation, Haley Tricycles, has undertaken include, but are not limited to, student-run farms for moving compost, handicapped dogs and bike messengers.

Currently, a larger scale project is in the midst for Levinson, which has much to do with the new attention on supporting independent publishers. Soon he hopes to travel with the Book Bike to other cities and work in tandem with independent book sellers in those respective cities, which he calls the Book Bike Tour.

“I’ll spend most of my donation money on books in the store, go to the park and give away the books in that city,” Levinson said. “At the same time, I’ll be promoting the Book Bike, the concept and of course directly promote the independent

book sellers.”

However deeply rooted in Levinson’s love for books the project may be, the simple hope that people will be inspired to buy books is something he cannot track.

“The hope is that they’ll see a bookmark in the book and they’ll go, ‘Oh wow, this is where I can find a book like this. I’m going to go back there,’” Levinson said. “That’s the part I can’t track, but I can always hope that people will be inspired to buy books on their own.”

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