We had the good fortune of connecting with Tucson Tome Gnome and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Tucson Tome Gnome, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Tucson Tome Gnome started as a small community book hiding and sharing initiative in 2021. The idea was hatched over dinner between the three of us (Emily Walsh, Jody Hardy, and Mary Ellen Flynn) in July of 2021. The pandemic was such a difficult time, and it was important for us to put our energy into something positive to help us get through the general craziness of 2021. We agreed that we wanted to share some kindness and delight with our community here in Tucson. Since we all love books, we determined that we wanted to hide surprise books around our community for our friends and neighbors in Tucson. So, in September 2021 we decided to buy 30 copies of one of our favorite books (“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune), put a bookmark/sticker/bow on them, and hide them all around town for people to find. And so began the adventures of the Tucson Tome Gnome! Since launching in September 2021, we have continued to hide books around Tucson on a monthly basis. The local Tucson community has been incredibly supportive, helping us meet our fundraising goals and providing us with ongoing encouragement and feedback. With this support, we have since formalized the initiative as a nonprofit corporation!

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Although all of us are transplants to Tucson, we’ve all now been here for over 10 years and consider ourselves adopted Tucsonans. And (notably) the Tome Gnome is definitely a Tucsonan! All of us have experienced the joy of reading (and connecting with others through reading) throughout our lives, and getting lost in a good book is one way that each of us coped with the challenges of the past several years. Thus, it was almost inevitable that we would come together and decide to build an initiative (and now organization) focused on the intersection of books and random acts of kindness.

Right now, all three of us work on the Tome Gnome project on a part-time basis while balancing other full-time work and responsibilities. Although it’s a lot of work, we’ve been able to maintain that balance even as Tome Gnome has grown, in part because we have committed to a regular cadence of business meetings that have allowed us to stay on top of the work involved in keeping the organization running. We are incredibly lucky that this project is something that is fun for us to work on and brings us a great sense of joy and satisfaction – so our weekly “business meetings” often just feel like fun dinners with friends where we get to nerd out about books and where we should hide our books around town.

Ultimately, core to the work that we do is the value of kindness – particularly random acts of kindness. Our vision is to bolster a culture and community that is united in the joy of reading by providing free books to inspire literacy, reading, and happiness. Escaping into beautiful stories is one of the ways we have survived these past few years – and we want others to have that experience as well. In short, we believe that the world can use more books and kindness. These values – and this vision – drive us to keep going!

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
One of the greatest things about hiding books all over Tucson is that we have made some amazing discoveries of some very cool places around Tucson. We’ll often ask our followers on social media where we should hide books. Through that process, we have discovered so many places that are now on our “favorites” list. For example, in May we hid “Memoirs at Murals in May,” ultimately hiding 30 copies of Phuc Tran’s memoir “Sigh Gone” at 30 different murals around town. Tucson has an AMAZING mural arts scene, and so we’d suggest that anyone visiting town take a morning or afternoon to plan a self-guided mural tour. For other “around town” adventures, we also love visiting Sabino Canyon, Agua Caliente Park, and enjoying the scenic drive up Mount Lemmon.

Where else? We love hiding books at the Mercado San Agustin and the MSA Annex on the west side of town, where you can get some amazing pastries from La Estrella Bakery, enjoy delicious burritos from Seis Kitchen, or treat yourself to the best vegan burgers at Beaut Burger (and, honestly, every business in the Mercado and the Annex are fabulous and worth checking out). We always enjoy breaking for lunch at Flora’s Market Run and taking coffee breaks at Coffee Times and Raging Sage. For happy hour, Borderlands Brewing Company in downtown Tucson is the best – they have a great patio for socializing (and the gnome has been known to hide a few books at the brewery, too!).

We’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shoutout to some of our favorite local indie bookstores! Honestly, we love ALL of them (and there are so many great indie bookstores in Tucson), but our three favorites are Mostly Books, the Littlest Bookshop (especially for the little ones in your life), and Barrio Books (focused on Latinx representation and located in one of the coolest spots in town – a room at the Hotel McCoy!).

And finally, no matter where you live or where you’re visiting, libraries are a fabulous and often underutilized community resource. We love all the branches that are part of the Pima County Public Library system and encourage folks to get library cards and take advantage of the free resources (and access to never-ending books!) provided by our public libraries.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The most important factor for the success of the Tome Gnome has been the ongoing support of the Tucson community, which we’ve been incredibly grateful for. So many people who find our books post photos of their finds on social media and share those photos with us. Ultimately, they are helping us build our happy bookish community by sharing their excitement about finding books (and, over time, re-sharing the books!). We wouldn’t be here without the support of all of our friends and neighbors in the Tucson community.

Website: https://tucsontomegnome.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tucsontomegnome/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tucsontomegnome/

Other: We just launched a fundraising campaign to keep hiding books in 2023! Folks can support the Tome Gnome via our GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-tome-gnome-hide-books-in-2023

Image Credits
Camden Hardy

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.