Synopses & Reviews
In 2011, Laura Moulton founded Street Books, a bicycle-powered lending library serving folks living outside in Portland, Oregon. That summer, Ben Hodgson became one of her most dedicated regulars, setting the still-unbeaten single season record for borrowing. Then winter came, and Ben's routines changed, and they didn't see each other for two years. Loaners is the story they began to tell when they reconnected.
Their story is a lot of things: It's an oral history of a friendship, told in hyper-observant vignettes. It's a much-needed report from the frontlines of Portland's housing crisis. It's a DIY guide to creating your own street library. It's an indelible portrait of what it's like to experience houselessness for three and a half years. It's an unforgettable exercise in empathy. It's also very funny.
Hodgson (or "Hodge" as Laura calls him) is a classic raconteur, and Moulton matches him tale for tale. Loaners alternates between their perspectives in an addictively readable, occasionally sublime way.
"Loaners is the most heartening, encouraging book I’ve read in years. Ever? What a beauty, how human and terrifying and funny, what a strange conversation. This could be the account of an inspired woman who built a bicycle-powered library for unhoused folks, revealing the pull of reading and the rich inner lives of those whose outer lives might seem unseemly; it could also be the testimony of a well-educated veteran who, living on the street and in the woods, finds purpose and connection through the library. That the book is both of these things, and told in these two sharp, distinct, and compassionate voices, is a true wonder — and yet, that is not what’s deepest and warmest here: This is the account of a friendship between people in different situations, who find a connection through books, and whose care for and appreciation of each other is evident in every single word. I loved this book. Loved it." Peter Rock, author of My Abandonment
"As someone saved by books when homeless, I know that true resiliency lies in the imagination. Kudos to Street Books for bringing the magic literature to so many souls on the street, and this illuminating, powerful story to all of us." Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder
"One of the single best ideas I’ve seen in this town." Omar El Akkad, author of American War and What Strange Paradise
"A wonderfully sui generis memoir, braiding together hilarious and devastating anecdotes from Ben’s years living on the street in Old Town — ‘the Baltic and Mediterranean’ of Portland — and Laura’s first decade of building her first bike library, ‘a beautiful, ungainly, rolling creation,’ into a sprawling, city-wide network of street librarians and patrons. Like Street Books itself, Loaners is a powerful collaboration between neighbors, a wonderful, chimerical book held together by the glue of humor, hope, and connection. The right book can change a person forever in a few hours time. Anyone looking for evidence to pair with this grand claim of mine should read Loaners immediately." Karen Russell, author of Orange World and Swamplandia!
Watch the Powell’s virtual event with Laura Moulton and Omar El Akkad!
About the Author
Ben Hodgson was a computer technician in the air force and a cab driver for many years. He is currently on the board of Street Books, and works as a street librarian, speaker, and inventory specialist.
Laura Moulton is an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark College and leads residencies in high schools for Literary Arts. Over the years she has taught writing in public schools, prisons, and teen shelters. Moulton is the founder of Street Books, Portland’s bicycle-powered street library.
Laura Moulton on PowellsBooks.Blog
The kid in front of me was scuffed-up at the edges, young but weathered. The book he most wanted from the street library was a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
, but he hesitated...