“Books, the truest friends of man, fill this rolling caravan.”
Plucked from Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, these words adorn the interior of Diarra Leggett’s new mobile bookstore, the Boomerang Bookshop: Nomad Chapter.
Last year, Leggett, known locally as Crckt (pronounced “cricket”), realized it wouldn’t be feasible to buy Empire Books, the independent store in Greensboro where he worked.
“I couldn’t afford a brick-and-mortar so…my wife offhandedly mentioned, ‘You should start a food truck,’ and I was like, ‘That might work.’ A couple weeks later, I went on Craigslist, typed in ‘bookmobile’ and this popped up so we jumped on it,” he said.
The Chapel Hill Public Library repurposed the bus as a bookmobile in the late 1980s and early ’90s before a couple used it as an on-the-go office for their auction house.
Leggett, 44, is also a collage artist and made the bus distinctly his own; the ceiling of his literary venture is plastered with dozens of loose pages.
The shop’s name and logo are unique, as well.
“Because a lot of the books are used, they go around and come back [like a boomerang],” he explained. “When we came up with the name Boomerang, I started looking into aboriginal art but it was too busy. My favorite movie of all time is probably The Road Warrior, and the feral kid is my favorite character so we tweaked [his image] a little bit.”
The child of a librarian, friends attest that Leggett is an unapologetic bookworm.
“I remember him reading Naked Lunch, and the teachers weren’t fond of him reading that in class,” said Stacy Jones, a former classmate. “He’s always been a reader and he’s always turned friends on to books and writers. It’s great to see he and [his wife] Elizabeth doing this.”
The Boomerang Bookshop parks at the Corner Farmer’s Market in the Lindley Park neighborhood on Saturday mornings and the Grove Street People’s Market in Glenwood on Thursday afternoons.
“I think it’s wonderful because there aren’t that many independent bookstores left and this is mobile so it can go around to where people are going to be like farmer’s markets or whatnot,” Jones said. “It gets books in kids’ and adults’ hands, and there are some unusual finds.”
Community members can sell, donate or trade in books on the bus. What Leggett can’t sell, he donates to the library at the Interactive Resource Center, a day center in Greensboro where people struggling with homelessness can access critical resources such as computer labs, showers and medical services.
The bookmobile made its eighth foray into the world at the Grove Street People’s Market last week.
“It’d be nice if it blossomed into something I could making a living at but… I imagine this year will be very experimental, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” Leggett said.
Leggett also works at the Kernersville Public Library in Forsyth County and formerly served as a literacy instructor with Reading Connections at the Guilford County Detention Center and throughout the broader community. His passion is “to serve the literary and academic needs and desires of greater Greensboro,” according to Boomerang’s Facebook page.
Patrons already appreciate the mobile’s unique value proposition.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity to introduce literacy, especially in neighborhoods where there are not as many opportunities to just pop out to a bookstore,” said Lynne Buchanan, 45, of Greensboro. “Books are not as common a commodity as they used to be and we’re losing a lot of our bookstores. Unless you are in a climate where you’re apt to seek out books on Amazon… they’re not really available.”
Buchanan and Leggett, former co-workers at the Artery Gallery, both actively support a culture that appreciates physical texts.
“I think having the actual artifact of a book in your hand is a valuable experience as opposed to reading articles online,” she said. “There’s something about the tactile experience of a book and it’s been shown that we process information differently when we experience it on the page as opposed to on a screen.”
Often, the barriers to that experience are financial or residential.
“I’d like to promote literacy where people are… in communities where there aren’t really any bookstores,” Leggett said. “You’re not going to be able to get any quality literature or radical politics from Walmart. I’d like to help fill that void.”