Free Expression Friday: The Nonbinarian Book Bike

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K. Kerimian founded the Nonbinarian Book Bike last year with a simple mission: give people queer books. In the time since, they raised money for the bike, created an inventory, and started doing exactly what they set out to do. Here is Kay on the genesis of the book bike and its mission.

What led K. to start the book bike

I'm trans, nonbinary, in my mid-30s. I’ve worked in the book industry for over 15 years. I founded the book bike after a certain confluence of events. One of them was a happy thing, which is that I received gender-affirming surgery. And as trans folks know, it is that care that really, dramatically changes your quality of life. I felt like I had a future for the first time. Then I returned to work at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, when our store was still requiring folks to mask. One person did not like that, and it immediately escalated to full-voice slurs and threatening violence. I turned 34 two months after that, and I had my body and had this joy… and I was like, “I'm still here. No one's going to hand me the thing I want.”

Access to queer books

I had a dream of owning a bookstore, but I didn’t know whether that would happen for me, as a working-class person. I didn’t know if I'd have the resources to pay those bills. So mutual aid was the answer immediately. I work in a bookstore, and I love working in books, but books are expensive, and people can't always buy them. But also, there are plenty of queer people who do not feel comfortable asking a bookseller where the section is. Who don't know how to recognize what the right books for them are, because they might not have the language yet. There are so many variables here, and access was the immediate concern I had. So making it free was never a question. And I wanted it to be queer. It was an active celebration of this life I suddenly felt I got to invest in. 

Why a book BIKE?

I had previously driven a bookmobile for a nonprofit — a 27-foot box truck through all five boroughs. But I couldn’t use that kind of vehicle, even though the mission was compatible: being able to go down certain streets to go to certain neighborhoods is an issue; parking was an issue; there were factors about the size of the vehicle that limited where we could go who we could serve in that context. So it became a book bike. I literally Googled “Ice Cream Bike.”  Because I was like, I don't know, is this real? Does it exist? And then I found this company in Portland, which makes ice cream bikes. And then they expanded into book bikes, primarily serving libraries.

Building inventory and community

I posted, “It's my birthday, and instead of buying me anything, here’s my bookshop.” And I created a wish list. And then one person sent me a book — Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera — and that was the beginning of the inventory. It's entirely community funded. You can give us your books, self-published books, zines, whatever. Maybe you found it on the stoop. First my fellow booksellers cleaned out their bookshelves. Then authors started saying, “Can I give you my book?” Which is so wholesome and lovely. And publishers were like, “I have a roster of queer authors. Can I send you their books?” That's how a lot of building community happened, too: the people writing these books and publishing them and representing them.

Why give away queer books now

There is a rise in anti-queer, but specifically anti-trans, legislation in this country that is targeting youth. The literature that is being targeted, is specifically for LGBTQ+ populations and BIPOC populations, and usually the intersection of them, as well. Even though in many of these books, it is simply these characters existing in those lives.

What it’s been like since it launched

It feels like being the ice cream truck. Everyone's just happy. No one's gonna be mad about ice cream. New Yorkers also don't believe you when you say free and there's no catch. They're like, “What? There's got to be something.” And I'm like, “No, it is free. Take it.” They're like, “I can bring it back!” And I'm like, “You don't have to, actually! I know the name implies library, but, like, live your life. You can give it to someone else if you want to.” It’s truly the joy of not selling anything and not being sold anything.


I get to hear feedback from the people who live in different neighborhoods. They say things like, “We don't have a library nearby, so we don't get to go as often as we like. My kids are really big readers.” Or, “I'm a teacher. I'm looking to build my library.” Or parents of gender-questioning youth saying, “How do I support my kid without putting that label on them?” (I recommend The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen.)

Everyone is welcome

We've also been able to distribute books to folks who weren't necessarily looking for queer books. They were just like, “Oh, a free thing,” or “This is a total novelty.” It's also bright pink. It's a giant box attached to a bike. So even if you don't know what it is, and you’re not listening to the person shouting, “Free books! They're gay!” at you…. We're not there to only serve a specific kind of queer person. We’re not saying “No straights allowed.” We want everyone to read and access these books. Not making assumptions about who's looking at these books has led to some incredible interactions. 

Connecting through books

My favorite thing about being a bookseller are these hand-selling moments. When someone says, “Can you help me find something…?” They give you some criteria, and maybe you dig a little bit more to gather some clues about who they are and why they want this. And then it turns into something more personal, and then suddenly it's a moment — and then it's gone. That person got a book, and you may never see them again, and you got to help them get that book and they got to find that book. It's a lot of that, which feels awesome.

Why K. does what they do

Why are we doing this? Because we want community. The folks who feel isolated and alone, because they don't see themselves on the page yet. Who don't have those books yet. Who maybe do have those books, but don't have other queer people who live near them. Who only have queer solidarity on the internet. So Instagram has become the community in which we built the platform, the voice. And it became something before it became a bike: it became a community.