Featured (left to right): Ben Hodgson (kneeling), Marissa Santillon-Guzman, Laura Moulton, Diana Rempe, and Austin Allstadt
This month in City of Readers we’re featuring Laura Moulton, Marissa Santillan-Guzman, and Diana Rempe of Street Books, a bicycle-powered mobile library serving people who live outside.
Describe your occupation:
I'm the Executive Director of Street Books, an adjunct professor, and writer.
I'm a Street Librarian for Street Books and a shelter intake staff person at Transition Projects.
I'm the Community Outreach Coordinator and a Street Librarian for Street Books, and a community psychologist.
Where are you from originally?
Hood River, OR
Last book you loved:
Laura: Open City
by Teju Cole
Marissa: Kushiel’s Dart
by Jacqueline Carey
Diana: The Red Parts
by Maggie Nelson
Were there any books you hid from your parents?
I remember a night where I hid reading from my parents, and funnily enough, it was a copy of Little Women
. I was about 11 or 12 and my mom kept sticking her head in to tell me how late it was. The last time she busted me, I flung the book away from me and pretended to sleep, but I know she was onto me. Later in high school, I brought home a copy of Howl
by Allen Ginsberg and that mysteriously disappeared — I learned later that my mom had made it disappear on purpose. Something about not wanting my little brothers to read it.
When have you used fiction like a tool in your own life?
In high school, there was a wrestling coach named Mr. Graham whom I observed being very unkind to the kids who had long hair and wore black concert T-shirts. He tormented one kid until he dropped out of school altogether. In typing class, I drafted a memo supposedly from Mr. Graham to the entire faculty at the small Idaho high school, calling for condom dispensers to be placed in the boys’ bathroom and counseling office. Since my mom taught at the school, nobody noticed me distributing the flyers to every teacher box except Mr. Graham’s. The most thrilling part of the story was that several people believed the memo and confronted Mr. Graham about it. I received a 2-day suspension and on the last day of school that year, two different teachers stopped at my locker to tell me they loved the letter. That was the best use of fiction in my own life that I can remember.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
There’s something that feels very right when human stories, information, effort, and creation get transmitted to you through human interaction. In this digital age especially, I think people have gotten past the ebook craze. It makes sense to use ebooks at times, but a digital bureaucracy of maintaining electronic devices sometimes makes the experience more distant than a print book. When you order online, it may be convenient, but it’s stripped of an experience that I think makes bookstores popular — namely, that it’s a pleasant and sensory experience to go into a bookstore. Bookstores, like libraries, provide the space for people interested in knowledge. Particularly with bookstores that provide sliding-scale pricing and used books, these become spaces that give access to human stories and bring together people from different backgrounds. Compared to the Internet, which is becoming so saturated in targeted content, there’s a slightly larger degree of human chaos in a brick-and-mortar store. Ultimately, I think people like that. I do.
Name an author you think everyone should read, and a good book with which to start.
One author I think people should get to read is Leslie Feinberg
. I think it’s telling when a story becomes a prominent part of a community — one that captures an essence of a group of people. In Stone Butch Blues
, she weaves a story where working-class, queer people can see themselves in the story threads. Because it’s so imbued with the noes of American culture towards queer folks, it’s a story that could bring more LGBTQ+ people (and those who are not) to better understand the context from which queer peoples’ struggle for identity, survival, and rights surged. There’s a free PDF available on her website
What do you do when you are not reading?
When I’m not reading, I spend many of my days out on the streets of Portland as a Street Librarian with Street Books. Street Books is a bicycle-powered mobile library serving people who live outside and at the margins in Portland. We strive to empower people on the streets through access to literature, and to create a community of support through a shared love of reading. Since 2011, we’ve operated regular library shifts around the city, welcoming patrons at the same time and place each week, so that they know where to return their books and check out new ones. We use an old-school card and pocket system that relies primarily on a firm handshake and our commitment to keep coming back. Our return policy is really loose — if you finish your book and you see us, come get another. We know that people have a lot to think about and returning their book might not be at the top of that list. We also know that with the regular, ongoing sweeps, people often lose all their belongings, including their books. Nonetheless, many of our library patrons have a deep commitment to returning their books despite their circumstances. At Street Books we see the power of greeting a person by name and knowing what they like to read. We have created strong relationships with many of our library patrons over the years — we know whose cancer is in remission and who has finally gotten housing. Our goal at Street Books is to use literature as a bridge toward a common understanding of our shared humanity. This happens one conversation at a time, often on the sidewalk next to the street library.