The House of Speakeasy’s Bookmobile Provides Free Books at Fordham Plaza


The Bookmobile provides free books in Fordham Plaza. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Sara Tsugranis, Contributing Writer

It is hard to imagine how much more difficult the coronavirus pandemic would be without today’s technology. Certain adjustments, such as remote learning, would not be possible. While this technology has made life under the pandemic easier, too much screen time has become a big problem. Everyone from elementary school children to working adults may be spending seven or more hours a day staring at a screen with little opportunity to balance that with other activities. The Bookmobile from the House of Speakeasy offers an opportunity for all to step away from their computer screen by providing free books to passerby every Monday at Fordham Plaza, weather permitting.

“One free book per person, un libro gratis por persona” reads a small chalkboard in front of a truck full of books at the edge of Fordham Plaza. House of Speakeasy Partnership Director Jeff Waxman and Resident Philosopher and Bookmobile Operations Associate Lee Bob Black stand nearby the truck, offering books to passerby gazing at the display. 

Waxman and Black say the goal of the Bookmobile is to make sure people have access to books that they can keep. “We’re big fans of libraries, but loaning books, circulating them, isn’t exactly the best course of action with a highly communicable disease,” Waxman said.

Accessibility to books is a big problem in the Bronx, where there is currently only one bookstore, The Lit Bar. “We do primarily operate in places that would be called book deserts. People are generally familiar with the idea of food deserts, but there’s large portions of the city that have no access to bookstores, and, particularly during quarantine, very limited access to libraries,” Waxman said. “Almost everybody who comes by the truck brings up at some point the closure of the Barnes and Noble, which was now a handful of years ago, but they see it as a cultural loss that hasn’t been filled. We are fortunate to be able to do something to help out.” 

Regardless of such limited access to bookstores, books are quite pricey, which makes books inaccessible to many low-income households. According to the Furman Center, the Bronx leads New York City with over 52% of neighborhoods living in high or extreme poverty. Families in the Bronx who rely on libraries are now left with no access to books. “One of the important things for us is that nobody has to prove any sense of need. This isn’t a need-based program because we believe everybody deserves a book,” Waxman said.

“I sometimes get very worried that there are millions of houses that don’t have bookshelves filled with books. I get it, books are frequently expensive, and it’s frequently difficult for people to go to libraries. I just love the idea that we might be giving a book to a kid, and it might become one of their favorite books of their life,” Black says, “These books might be the first physical thing they interact with intellectually and emotionally that’s not a screen.”

Last summer, the Bookmobile traveled through 14 states, through New Orleans and back to New York City. They hosted 16 events in two weeks, giving away about 5,000 books in partnership with Narrative Four. Through this non-profit book-exchange, kids can learn the stories of other young people and can then share these stories with their peers. As lockdown has eased up, the Bronx is fortunate to have the House of Speakeasy Bookmobile to provide children and adults alike with stories of their own until we can connect with others face-to-face again.