BETHEL ISLAND -- Reading something -- anything -- beats staring at a week's worth of laundry tossing around in the dryer.
Which is why the tiny assortment of books incongruously tucked inside a laundromat on Bethel Island's main road just might be a welcome diversion as well as a convenience for any resident who'd rather not drive seven miles or more to the closest library.
Located in a building behind Bethel Market, the motley titles that line two small bookshelves materialized earlier this year after bookworm Debbie Christian began looking for a place to offload a couple hundred books she no longer needed.
Hearing about her search for rent-free storage space, a friend posted the need on Facebook, and in March business owner Raj Sarkaria offered the use of his laundromat.
"I thought, 'Wow -- that's a clever idea,'" said Bethel Island resident Cha-cha, who lives in a mobile home park that has a lending library in its clubhouse.
Another mobile home park, Willows at Bethel Island, also has space in its clubhouse dedicated for that purpose, she said, but other than these two spots and the laundromat, she's not aware of any other such amenity in the immediate area.
The idea behind the project that the island's Facebook community has dubbed "Island Reeds" is simple -- take a book, give a book -- although it's uncertain whether users understand the second half of the equation because the collection has shrunk considerably since Christian made her sizable contribution.
Nonetheless, visitors can find Agatha Christie mysteries and works by crime novelist Patricia Cornwell as well as Louis L'Amour westerns and a 1,088-page colossus by James Michener.
Informal book-sharing sites like this are the only way residents can enjoy free books on the island of more than 2,200. The county long ago discontinued its bookmobile service to areas where people can't easily get to a library; its closest stacks are in Oakley, where it has been sharing space in Freedom High School's library for the past 14 years.
Islanders would have to travel even farther to check out books from the two automated kiosks the county has installed in East County, one in Discovery Bay's Safeway shopping center and the other at the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station.
As for the chances of Bethel Island getting a proper library of its own, Contra Costa County Interim Librarian Cathy Sanford noted that the county doesn't have enough money to build one without help from some other source.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.