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This book gnome project in Tucson has gained in popularity

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Mary Ellen Flynn, one of the founders of the Tucson Tome Gnome project, hides a copy of Aiden Thomas’ “Cemetery Boys” at Trail Dust Town just before Halloween.

Come on now, admit it, even if you’re a believer in gnomes it took you awhile to get comfortable around one.

Right from the jump there’s the mysterious silent “G” that leads off their name. There are those cold, wooden eyes. Who knows what’s on a gnome’s mind. Still, it is hard to deny these little fellows have powers we don’t yet understand.

Exhibit A: The Tucson Tome Gnome, who for the last year has been hiding free books all over town and now has more than 1,600 followers on Instagram.

Even the Tome Gnome’s three assistants are surprised by his growing public profile and the warm response he has received from the people he has touched.

“When we first started, we didn’t know if this was a good idea or not,” co-founder Emily Walsh confessed. “Then we began hearing from people who found our books. They loved the idea, too!”

“The idea,” developed by Tucsonans Walsh, Jody Hardy and Mary Ellen Flynn, was to purchase, gift wrap and “hide” 30 books a month at locations throughout Tucson.

They think of it as a fun, random act of kindness, and ask recipients to read the book and “pay it forward” by re-gifting a book themselves.

Not only have more than 400 people found Tome Gnome books, dozens have posted photos on his Instagram page and dozens more have made donations to offset his expenses.

No one is a bigger fan than author T.J. Klune, a former Tucsonan who wrote his first books here and now lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“Everyone should have access to books, no matter their financial or social status,” he said. “The women helping the Tome Gnome understand that completely. There’s nothing in it for them. They just want to share the joy of reading.”

Klune heard about the project in the most random of ways, from a friend working at GoFundMe. When he went to the Tome Gnome’s Instagram page (, he learned that the Gnome’s first giveaway — in September 2021 — was “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by T.J. Klune.

In the months since, Klune has “paid it forward” himself by donating more than $8,500 to help fund the program through the end of next year. “It is the absolute least I can do,” he said.

The first seed of inspiration for the Tucson Tome Gnome came from Walsh.

“We’d all been so inside ourselves for so many months during the pandemic, I was wondering if there might be something fun I could do to make people smile again,” she explained. “Reading had helped get me through the lockdown, so I wanted it to be something with books.”

Her vision was vague until her husband, Kirk Markarian, suggested a catchy name. “How ‘bout the Tucson Tome Gnome?” he asked.

When Walsh mentioned the idea to friends Hardy and Flynn one night over dinner, they immediately counted themselves in, and the three began fleshing out the concept they launched last fall.

“You know, sometimes you have an idea, and you think it would be fun if someone would do that,” Walsh said. “Jody and Mary Ellen wanted us to be the ones to do it.”

There is no real division of labor. They all have a voice selecting each month’s book. Together, they approve the purchase of 30 copies. Together they gift-wrap each one and place a book at 30 random locations around town one Sunday a month.

In the beginning, the three women acted anonymously and funded the project themselves. Then, in February, a story by This Is Tucson introduced the Tucson Tome Gnome to the public at large.

“When the reporter asked what people could do if they wanted to help,” Flynn said, “we had no idea. We’d never thought about that.”

Hardy began getting donations at Mostly Books, where she is the manager. “People just showed up and started giving us money,” she said.

Seeing the need for accountability, the Tome Gnome started a GoFundMe page in February. Donations now cover the cost of books and materials.

Appropriately enough, the Tome Gnome’s three assistants were connected by their love of books. Walsh and Flynn were employed by the UA Foundation when they realized they were reading the same book: “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard. The two of them met Hardy at a book club gathering at Mostly Books.

Some of the Tome Gnome books have been chosen because one of the partners liked it. Others have been picked for relevance. Collections of poetry by Joy Haro, Alberto Rios and TC Tolbert were given away during National Poetry Month in April.

Anticipating the monsoon, the Tome Gnome selected “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid in July. Copies were left at Tucson locations near water.

On the day before Halloween, the Tome Gnome hid copies of “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas.

The next Tome Gnome giveaway is scheduled for Sunday, November 20. Which book will it be? Sorry, the gnome’s lips are sealed.


To learn more about the Tucson Tome Gnome, visit his website at

The University of Arizona’s renowned Creative Writing program is turning 50 this year, and the celebration will continue with alumni readings of poetry Thursday, Nov. 17. Featured will be Alberto Rios, Arizona’s first Poet Laureate; Cara Blue Adams and Aisha Sabatini Sloan. The program will begin at 7 p.m. at the UA Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen St. For more, visit

This year’s Literary Awards Writing Contest, sponsored by the Tucson Festival of Books, received 621 submissions, program director Meg Files reports. Preliminary judging is already under way. A total of $5,200 will be divided among the top nine entrants, and 50 of these submitting authors will be invited to the festival’s Masters Writing Workshop March 6-7.

The "Better Call Saul" star spoke to attendees of the Tucson Festival of Books on Sunday about his acting career and new book "Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir." Odenkirk, who also starred in AMC's "Breaking Bad," was joined on stage by television director Noah Hawley. 

Browse previous Bookmarks columns and keep up with news from the Tucson book community by following Bookmarks Arizona (@BookArizona) on Twitter.

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