The Times online has an article on Britain’s most stolen book – can you guess what it might be? The kama sutra? The Bible? Twilight? Nope – according to a straw poll of more than 50 independent bookshops across Britain, the most stolen book is the London A-Z.
According to one bookseller, Patrick Neale, “A-Zs were like porn – you had to keep them under the till. I’ve been in bookselling for 20 years and the London A-Z is the most stolen book in the world.” (“In the world”? How does he know that? Hyperbole or ethnocentricity?)
Reference books feature strongly in the most-stolen Top 10n (to follow below): Local Ordnance Survey maps, the Oxford English Dictionary and the Highway Code are all there. “The worst theft we’ve had was of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, which was worth £100,” says Peter Donaldson of Red Lion Books in Colchester, Essex. “How someone had a big enough coat to walk out with that under it I really don’t know.”
In 2004 a man was jailed after it was revealed that he ran a gang of thieves who stole Lonely Planet travel guides to order. He had sold an estimated 35,000 stolen books a year. And in 2008 a Glasgow man was jailed for 26 months for selling stolen books worth £50,000 on eBay, under the pseudonym “easypeesy”.
Crime books are extremely popular thefts. The works of Martina Cole appear high on the list. Her books are also among those most read in prisons. She claims to be perfectly happy about this: “If people want my books badly enough to go and steal them it’s a compliment, really.”
Children’s books are also targeted. Jacqueline Wilson, the most borrowed children’s author in the UK, is also among the most stolen. In times gone by, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books were often pilfered too. Booksellers blame underfunded teenagers, and young mothers with prams in which to hide stolen goods, as the main culprits.
Finally, there are some thefts that simply elude comprehension. The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger was stolen from Liverpool Central Library so often that eventually the librarians stopped restocking it.
10 most stolen books from UK shops
1. London A-Zs: London Street Atlas
2. Ordnance Survey maps: Exmoor Explorer Map (now that’s very specific!)
3. Terry Pratchett novels
4. Harry Potter books, especially the last one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
5. Lonely Planet travel guides: Great Britain
6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
7. Martina Cole novels
8. Jacqueline Wilson novels
9. The Oxford English Dictionary
10. The Highway Code
10 most borrowed books from UK libraries
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
2. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (published in Australia as The Shifting Fog)
3. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
4. Relentless by Simon Kernick
5. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson
6. The Quickie by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
7. The 6th Target by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
8. The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
9. Cross by James Patterson
10. Step on a Crack by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
(according to Public Lending Right)