These are the BPL’s most-lost books

Malcolm X’s autobiography is one of the most-lost books at the Boston Public Library.
Malcolm X’s autobiography is one of the most-lost books at the Boston Public Library. (Photo: Ollie Noon Jr./Globe Staff/File)

The creator of the bestselling “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, Jeff Kinney, says he’s startled. Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz says he’s mortified. A celebrated children’s author, Lois Lowry, says she hopes the books are in good hands.

The writers share a dubious — or perhaps coveted — distinction: They’re authors of a book or books that have disappeared from the Boston Public Library’s shelves in large quantities, landing on a list of its 50 most-lost titles.

“I’m not exactly sure how I should respond to this news,” Kinney said in an e-mail. “Is this an honor? Or something to be ashamed of? It feels like maybe there should be a plaque or a trophy involved.”


The first installment of Kinney’s “Wimpy Kid” series has been the BPL’s most frequently lost book in the past five years, the library said. Sixty-three copies were checked out during that time but never returned.

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Eight other “Wimpy Kid” titles also made the list. In total, the library counts more than 400 Kinney books as lost.

“Kids! Return your books!” said Kinney, who lives in Plainville, where he runs An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe. “You’re making me look bad!

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Jeff Kinney, author of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid'' series, at his new Plainville bookstore.

The library system said it lists most-lost titles and most-lost authors as a way to manage its collection, which tops more than 20 million items — including 1.6 million books, DVDs, and digital material that can be checked out.

Díaz said he was “profoundly embarrassed” that his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (30 copies lost) made the list.


“You can safely color me mortified,” said Díaz, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He offered to provide a signed, hardcover copy of the novel to anyone who returns an overdue copy to the BPL.

“I don’t want to say they’re stolen,” Díaz said. “We don’t know if they’re coming back.”

The library estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 books are lost annually. Many of the most-lost titles are popular books — some of which have been made into movies. More than a few were written by local authors.

Melissa Andrews, the BPL’s collection development manager, said the library pays up to $25,000 annually to replace items that go missing.

The most-lost books are a mix of titles that fit into broad categories, said Amy Pattee, an associate professor at the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College.


There are classics that students often read in school like “The Catcher in the Rye” (49 copies lost) and “The Great Gatsby” (47 copies lost).

Popular titles with broad appeal like the Harry Potter series make three appearances on the list, as do time-honored children’s books like “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” both by Dr. Seuss.

In their company are books that could be considered forbidden reading, such as “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James (44 copies lost), Pattee said.

One fitting title on the list is “The Book Thief” (39 copies lost), by the Australian author Markus Zusak.

But “Steal this Book,” by activist Abbie Hoffman, didn’t make the cut, Pattee said. There’s a copy at the Central Library in Copley Square, but it can’t be checked out.

The most-lost authors list includes some strange bedfellows. Thriller novelist James Patterson’s books vanish the most from the library, followed by the work of Dr. Seuss and children’s author Mary Pope Osborne, who writes the “Magic Tree House” series.

Library cardholders can accrue up to $10 in late fines before they must begin paying it off or lose their borrowing privileges. If they lose an item, they may either replace it, pay what the library spent to purchase the item, or, if that isn’t available, pay a fee, which is $35 for most books.

Some patrons may avoid the library if they have overdue material, Andrews said, because they fear being sanctioned.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to come back,” she said. “We’ll help you find another book that you like even more.”

Author Junot Diaz in Cambridge, Mass..
Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe
Author Junot Diaz in Cambridge.

M.T. Anderson welcomed news that his dystopian novel, “Feed,” was on the BPL’s list of most-lost books. Librarians have told him they can’t keep paperback copies on the shelves.

“I think it’s great. I love being stolen. It makes me feel really special,” said Anderson, who lives in Cambridge. “Though my book is an attack on capitalism, I really like the extra sales bump.”

Dave Pelzer’s memoir, “A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive,” is tied with “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” for fourth-most-lost book at the BPL. They rank under the first “Wimpy Kid” book, “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “The Great Gatsby.”

“I’m under ‘Gatsby.’ Oh my God. That’s cool,” said Pelzer, whose account of being abused by his mother was published in 1995.

Another memoir, “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie,” is one of the BPL’s most-lost books.

Author Michael Patrick MacDonald said the book is popular among high school and college students.

“People are always telling me: ‘This book passed through 10 people in my family,’ ” said MacDonald, who divides his time between Dorchester and Brooklyn. “I’ve heard of a lot of cases where people just carry it around.”

Lois Lowry has two books for young adults on the list, “The Giver” and its companion, “Gathering Blue.”

Teachers often assign both books, which appeal predominantly to readers in their early teens, Lowry said.

“I would like to think that they love them so much that they want to keep them forever, like a puppy that follows them home,” she said. “I hope they’re in good hands.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.