Of Thieves and Readers

Subway riders in Mexico City are being handed free books as part of a new program that aims to simultaneously boost literacy and reduce crime.

The books in the new program, “For a Quick Read on the Metro,” are lent on the honor system: Passengers are supposed to take them as they get on the subway and return them as they exit. “It’s a program based on trust,” Cruz said.
So, far not everybody has been so honorable. Since the program started last month, 37,000 books have been lent and 64 percent have been returned. But it’s still early, said Cruz, who expressed confidence that the return rate would improve.
It is an open question whether lending books will encourage better behavior among the subway’s nearly 5 million daily riders.
One security guard on the Green Line said it might have the opposite effect. “In fact, it could promote more delinquency, because if people are reading on the subway, they might not be keeping an eye on their purse or their wallet and become an easy target” for pickpockets, he said, not wanting his name used for fear of being pegged as a naysayer. The guard said he doubted thieves would suddenly be so enthralled with literary passages that they would forget how they make their living. “They are not going to suddenly pick up a book and just stop robbing,” he said.