Honor Books

 

HonorBooksExteriorAllen, MI, is the kind of town for which the expression “wide place in the road” was coined. Its “downtown” retail strip is just two shuttered brick buildings with tall Italianate windows that stare vacantly at the barely-slowing traffic of US 12.

Between the buildings is a gap filled by a remarkable oddity: Honor Books. As you can see, it’s a lean-to of discarded two-by-fours, plywood sheets, and barn skylights. There is no door, only a yawning gap. The sign up top has not aged gracefully but still entreats, “Serve Yourself.” The sign out on the sidewalk cheerfully declares, “Yes, We’re Open” as if the not-to-code construction left any doubt. (I have driven by at all hours of day and night and never seen that sign withdrawn.)

Inside, the “customer” finds a few mismatched bookcases displaying perhaps as many as a couple hundred books. There is some evidence the books have been sorted by topic. The uncontrolled environment has allowed mildew to play havoc.

Most remarkable is the payment system that puts the “honor” in Honor Books. A slot has been cut in the back wall and an arrow … well, see for yourself:

HonorBooksInterior

My first visit, I chose a couple of sci-fi novels, a Bradbury and a Heinlein, and slid 70 cents into the slot. I was more than a little disappointed that I felt no cold, deathly fingers reaching out from within to touch mine.

For I cannot deny it, the place is creepy. It doesn’t explicitly offer free hugs but the place has that vibe.

I believe in Honor Books, however. On my second stop I made a donation, a boxed set of Anne McCaffrey’s dragon novels. I fear Honor Books may be founded upon a fierce commitment to capitalism that my donation violated, but I couldn’t help myself.

I can’t get over the very existence of Honor Books. Despite living in a seedy rural hamlet, surrounded by vanishingly few book lovers (presumably) and with manifestly minimal resources — some poor soul took the trouble and marshaled the courage to build a lonely outpost to Literature. I believe in Honor Books and I love Honor Books, and the next time you drive through Allen, MI I demand you stop, pick out a book, and slide your 35 cents into the slot.

There are 16 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Fred, you make me want to drive up there and put my money in the slot.

    • #1
  2. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    I think that is a wonderful idea!

    • #2
  3. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Someone living in a seedy rural hamlet, surrounded by vanishingly few book lovers (presumably) and with manifestly minimal resources–some such poor soul took the trouble and marshaled the courage to build a lonely outpost to Literature. I believe in Honor Books and I love Honor Books, and the next time you drive through Allen I demand you stop, pick out a book, and slide your 35 cents into the slot.

    Great story!  Thanks for sharing.

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    New Hampshire and Maine still have some places where a person can get fresh vegetables or firewood and leave the money in a box. :)

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I’ve ridden through Allen quite a few times.  It is a mildewy kind of town, but I don’t recall having seen that place. Or if I did see it, I don’t remember where it is.  Where is it in relation to the state highway?  Is it on the north side of the road?

    The woman who told the story that would provide the title chapter to my book Black Hawk Slept Here (if I ever were to write such a book) is buried in the Allen cemetery.  When I give talks with that title, I always start off with her story.    But the story she told about the native leader Black Hawk took place just outside of Jonesville, a little farther to the east.

    Attempts to corroborate her story have led me to all sorts of interesting places.

    • #5
  6. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Are you sure it’s not the Hillsdale College bookstore?

    • #6
  7. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Amazon subprime.

    • #7
  8. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    A bit sad looking, but cool. It reminds me a bit of the Little Free Library concept.

    • #8
  9. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    Michigan is a nice place.

    They should declare war on Canada. Then immediately surrender and give Wayne County to Windsor.

    • #9
  10. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Reminds me of Telluride’s Free Box. Only that one’s, well, you know, free.

    • #10
  11. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    The Reticulator: I’ve ridden through Allen quite a few times. It is a mildewy kind of town, but I don’t recall having seen that place. Or if I did see it, I don’t remember where it is. Where is it in relation to the state highway? Is it on the north side of the road?

    Yes. Right on US-12.

    Allen promotes itself as the “Antique Capital” and it really does have several interesting antique stores and other not completely categorizable attractions on its fringes … but the “downtown” is wretched.

    • #11
  12. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Basil Fawlty:Are you sure it’s not the Hillsdale College bookstore?

    I’m telling Larry Arnn on you.

    • #12
  13. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I love this story! My sister covets places like this – and I have become a fan of the obscure bookstore through her – my sister and I have found in such places, Claire Berlinksi’s Menace in Europe (our intro to her writing), vintage publications from the 30’s and 40’s on WWII, opening a world to my generation of how freedom was lost, and won again…..old books on tried and true gardening with amazing botanical sketches, original volumes of Miracle of 34th St., Gone With The Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway, and To Kill a Mockingbird, The Gathering Storm by Churchill, Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels where I found a pressed 4 leaf clover, my sister found a history book with 15 beautiful postcards of Israel from a 1950’s traveler, edge-of-your-seat mysteries by Agatha Christie, found a book called I Owe Russia $1200 by Bob Hope (hilarious!), written during his USO tours, I’ve found medical books from the 1800’s with herbal remedies, a book with a handwritten note that says “God Be With You – be safe”, followed by a language I cannot identify.

    Seek out your local Good Will, library book sale, small towns like this and look for treasure….books are more than stories – they are our link to freedom. “Words are life”…..

    • #13
  14. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    We have been to Allen many times — in search of furniture. I never noticed the bookstore….

    • #14
  15. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    I will be driving from the east coast to the Rockies sometime next year. I just might be able to route my travels thru Allen, MI.

    • #15
  16. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody
    @HankRhody

    I was sort of annoyed at the little free libraries until I thought the process through.

    • You free up shelf space for other books
    • You can put books there that you’ll never actually read
    • People will assume you’ve read these weighty, impressive tomes
    • If you’re lucky, someone will keep one of those books, which frees you from the obligation to even try to read them
    • You get to let your neighbors know you’re a better person than they are.

    It’s hard to beat that kind of value.

    • #16

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.