Gate City Journal

A Page From The Past

A former bookmobile rolls again . . . as a bookstore on wheels

 

By Maria Johnson

It’s a bookmobile with one big difference: The books on this bus are for sale, and because they’re secondhand — gleaned from yard sales, library sales, church sales and donations — customers can pick up Pulitzer Prize winners — or pocket guides — for pennies.

Boomerang Bookshop: Nomad Chapter is the V-8-powered dream of owner Crckt (pronounced Cricket) Leggett, who decided as a child that he was tired of people mispronouncing his given name, Diarra, so he customized his mom’s nickname for him by dropping the vowels.

“I figured, it’s a nickname; I can spell it how I want to,” he says.

His mom, Lois, now a retired librarian, gave him something else: a love of reading, which he literally has mobilized with Boomerang.

You’ll find Leggett aboard his food-for-thought truck on most Saturday mornings at The Corner Market, at the crossing of Elam and Walker avenues in Latham Park.

On Thursday evenings in spring through fall, he’s at the Grove Street People’s Market, not far from his home in the Glenwood community.

He spices his itinerary with other stops. Last month, he piloted his 23-foot biblio-craft downtown for the monthly First Friday celebration. The next morning, he rolled into a holiday bazaar at Hope Academy on Florida Street. He popped up a canopy outside the bus and set out some of his wares: a plastic crate full of paperback classics penned by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, E.M. Forster, J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Sophocles, Anne Frank, Harper Lee and others.

A hand-lettered sign made the deal clear: “Mass Market Paperbacks, $.50–3.00. That’s Cheap, Son.”

A few feet away, a cardboard box once filled with Smithfield Hams held more books priced up to 50 cents.

A metal rack propped up volumes including W.E.B DuBois: A Reader, All New Square Foot Gardening, Martial Arts Home Training, Buddhism for Dummies, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights and The Lost Files of Nancy Drew.

Inside the neat, stylish bus, hundreds more books lined the walls. The works were organized according to genre, as you would find in any bookstore.

Bios, Letters and Memoirs

All Things North Carolina.

U.S. History.

World History.

Women’s and Gender Studies.

Literature and Fiction.

Gardening.

Leggett also stocks ’zines — independent, low-budget magazines — on a broad variety of topics. He carries books suited for children, but unlike the kiddie-fied bookmobiles of yore, Boomerang aims primarily at adults and established young readers.

“I’m more interested in fostering the reading habits of young people who are reading for amusement already,” Leggett says.

The mobile bookstore was his wife’s idea. They were sitting on their front porch one night, and Crckt was bemoaning what he regarded as a lost opportunity: a chance to buy the used bookstore where he worked, the now defunct-Empire Books on Spring Garden Street.

No stranger to the ways of the page, he’d had also worked at Edward McKay Used Books & More (now McKay’s) and at a pop-up bookshop on Gate City Boulevard.

He wanted his own used bookstore but couldn’t afford a traditional space.

“You should start a food truck, but for books,” suggested Elizabeth Leggett, who teaches English as a second language at Kiser Middle School.

“That’s just insane enough, it might work,” said Crckt.

A few weeks later, he typed “bookmobile” into Craigslist and got a hit: a Thomas Built bookmobile, made in High Point in 1988. The double-door bus  — one portal fore, one aft — originally was used by the Chapel Hill public library. Later, it served as the mobile headquarters for an auction business.

The couple forked over $9,000 for the bus, and Leggett, who works full-time for the Forsyth County Public Library, dived into rehabbing the bus on weekends and evenings. On the interior, he added shelving. He decoupaged the ceiling with pages torn from books. He painted the exterior gray and added an eye-catching red-and-yellow logo with the help of his friend, graphic artist Lisa Sussman.

Inspired by the feral child in Leggett’s favorite movie, Road Warrior, the emblem shows a kid wielding a boomerang, reflecting the idea that books on the bus are circling back for another life.

The Leggetts launched Boomerang in May 2017. Leggett was comfortable behind the wheel. At his regular job, he drives the Web on Wheels, a bus that takes Internet access to preschool and after-school programs in Forsyth County.

“I jokingly refer to myself as a bookmobilist,” he says.

Leggett also sells books online, at biblio.com, under the Boomerang name, but his walk-in customers lay hands on ink and paper. With only 91 square feet of space, he curates the selections carefully.

“I like to keep the fiction of a high literary content, but I also like to represent voices that are underrepresented in the literary world, be it women, people of color or queer folk. I try to highlight social justice, camaraderie and diversity,” he says.

Business is steady. If he rings up $60 in sales over a four-hour period, he’s happy. He hopes to reach people who might be intimidated by regular bookstores or who don’t have enough money to shop for new titles. Most of his books cost $4 to $7.

He also hopes to draw curious passers-by such as Adam Hubert, a 23-year-old teaching fellow at Hope Academy, a private Christian school.

Hubert was attending the school’s holiday bazaar when he boarded the bus to look around. He was surprised to find a copy of the recently published Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education.

Hubert read the book last year, and he was struck by how author Mychal Denzel Smith challenged readers to examine their own prejudices.

“It changed my perspective on life,” said Hubert, as he applied the educators’ discount (“I know what they’re up against,” says Leggett) and paid $12 for two books, The Mis-Education of the Negro, a 1933 volume by Carter G. Woodson and, Latinos, a Biography of the People, a 1992 work by Earl Shorris.

“Working with Latinos here, I realized I don’t know much about their culture,” he said.

Leggett hopes to own a bricks-and-mortar Boomerang some day, but first he wants to expand the reach of his bus, adding more stops to his schedule. He carries on a tradition that goes back farther than the motorized models.

Over the windshield, he has pasted a quote from Parnassus on Wheels, a 1917 novel about a bookstore on a horse-drawn wagon:

“Books, the truest friends of man, fill this rolling caravan.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Reach her at ohenrymaria@gmail.com. Contact Boomerang at boomerangbookseller@gmail.com or go to the shop’s Facebook page.

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