Chase Crossingham apparently never met a book he didn’t like.
Over his lifetime he collected thousands of novels written by virtually every famous author known to mankind as well as non-fiction volumes on possibly every subject under the sun — which now occupy tall shelves among several rooms in the home where he lived.
Much wall space at the sprawling residence here seems to be filled with books, providing an additional touch of charm to its tastefully decorated interior. There are said to be 30 to 40 boxes of books elsewhere on the premises out of sight.
“I used to fuss at him,” Crossingham’s wife Rhonda said in recalling times when he showed up with a new one in hand. “Not another book,” she would say.
“We were married 32 years, and I can’t think of a day when we were not getting a book,” Rhonda Crossingham added this past week of the volumes her husband amassed from online ordering or by browsing bookstores.
“He collected,” she said in an obvious understatement. This included many first editions and even a slew of paperbacks.
It is hard to apply a number to just how many books are there. “A whole lot,” she said in trying to pinpoint the total. “Way too many.”
And Chase Crossingham’s devotion to literature didn’t end there.
It even extended to Russia, where the Crossinghams visited the grave of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, best known for his novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” There is a photograph in the couple’s home of a smiling Chase standing in front of a monument at the grave site which bears a sculpture of the author’s face.
The local man even took dirt from the grave which he kept as a souvenir in a Dostoyevsky book.
Rhonda also recalls going to New York City, where the couple rode the subway to the end of the line just so he could see the grave of Herman Melville, the author of “Moby Dick.”
In addition, Chase made sure he “visited” Ernest, she said of the late author Hemingway.
“It was just what he did,” his wife said of Crossingham, who majored in literature at the University of South Carolina. He also wrote articles on that subject and not only read books, but prepared critiques of various works as part of his deep appreciation for the written word.
“He corresponded with a lot of different authors,” Rhonda said.
Among his favorites were John Updike and Cormac McCarthy.
However, Chase Crossingham’s odyssey through the literary world came to a tragic halt in May 2014, when he died unexpectedly at age 53. He worked as a stockbroker, but one gets the impression he would have been more at home in a college classroom as an American Lit professor.
Honoring his memory
Crossingham’s death cast light on the inevitable question concerning the repositories left behind by serious collectors of artwork or other items: what happens to those collections?
In his case, an answer has come — it involves the Little Free Library program, a worldwide movement that promotes literacy, a love of reading and a sense of community. Through it, volumes are placed in small containers, or kiosks, at various locations where the books are offered free to members of the community.
The book-exchange program operates with an honor system under the motto “take a book, leave a book.”
A movement is under way to launch a local version of the Little Free Library effort which is the brainchild of Coleman Craddock, a neighbor of the Crossinghams.
The Mount Airy High School student devised the idea for the Little Free Library program as a way to make public the private library of Chase Crossingham. While books owned by Chase will feed its supply, rare and other special volumes in his collection will be kept behind.
Coleman explained while sitting at a dining room table in the Crossingham home with her mom Jennifer, who is assisting with the project, that Chase’s love of books made an impression on her when she first met him as a young child.
“He would ask me what I liked to read,” the youth remembered. “He was the only adult who did that.”
Chase once gave her a copy of the Steinbeck classic “The Grapes of Wrath,” which along with that great literary work included a bonus — notes Chase had made at strategic points throughout the book offering various observations about the material.
“It helped me in school,” Coleman said of the role Chase’s insights played when she studied “The Grapes of Wrath.”
One must keep in mind that the energetic MAHS senior, who is a member of the school’s tennis team, is not the typical techno-geek of her generation who prefers to do his or her reading by electronic methods, such as eBooks.
“I don’t like reading a book on a tablet,” said Coleman, agreeing that even in the Computer Age, there is no substitute for curling up with a traditional bound volume.
Coleman’s aunt, Kim Hill (Jennifer’s sister) had spotted a Little Free Library station in another area and thought it might go over well here, leading to Coleman’s initiative.
At least 250 locations for the mini-libraries are estimated to exist in Madison, Wisconsin, alone, in the state where the program originated in 2009. The original kiosk was modeled after a one-room schoolhouse, a design that has been copied elsewhere.
After learning about Little Free Libraries, conversations between Coleman, her mom and Rhonda Crossingham led to the plan being hatched to use books from Chase’s vast collection because they consider it a great way to keep his legacy alive in the community.
Other volumes will be added by the public under the program concept, and at least one person has offered to donate books after learning about the effort.
“Theoretically, it should refresh itself,” Coleman said of the Little Free Library inventory.
One key step in the process was taken on Sept. 3, when Jennifer Craddock was granted permission by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to place the book kiosks on city property. The board voted unanimously to allow Little Free Libraries at Riverside Park and Lowry Park downtown, and for other possible locations to be explored by municipal staff members.
Sites that have been suggested include an area of the Emily B. Taylor Greenway behind Roses, B.H. Tharrington Primary School, Northern Hospital of Surry County and an Episcopal church.
Jennifer Craddock told city officials at the September meeting that the Little Free Library program reflects the literary spirit of Chase Crossingham.
“He was passionate about his books and about sharing his books,” she said. “We think this is a perfect fit to honor his memory.”
Jennifer mentioned several days ago that the project is still in the planning stages, including raising awareness and organizing fundraising activities to engage the community’s help in building the kiosks. The idea of having book stations constructed by shop classes has been suggested along with possible donations of materials.
An outdoor movie night on the lawn of the Mount Airy Public Library had been planned for last weekend to raise funds for the project, but was postponed due to rainy weather. Updates on such activities can be monitored via a Little Free Library Chase Crossingham Memorial Facebook site. It shows a picture of him with Updike.
However, it’s safe to say that the book part of the equation has been covered thanks to Rhonda Crossingham, who appreciates the chance to continue her husband’s practice of giving books in a major way through the Little Free Library campaign.
“So I think it’s perfect,” she said of Coleman Craddock’s idea in memory of Chase.
“Everyone who knew him probably owns a book he gave them,” his wife added.
“He loved to share.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.