Sunday, July 02, 2006

"If you love your books, let them go" - The New York Times on the new global phenomenon of BookCrossing

This is Summersault, a cafe in the heart of Rugby, a market town in Warwickshire, whose chief claim to fame is that the game of rugby was invented there. I live within ten miles of Rugby, so visit the town frequently.

When we first moved to the area about three years ago, I checked out Rugby and was enchanted by this charming cafe with its outside tables, lavish flower displays and the arts & crafts materials and jewellery for sale inside the restaurant. It runs to three floors, with a lovely atrium-style top floor for those long winter afternoons, heavily planted with greenery and glowing with light. It's always marvellous to find a good place to write and it helps if the food - and especially the coffee - is excellent too.

But in recent months, Summersault has become even more special in my eyes. For it has joined a rapidly growing worldwide 'sociology experiment', as Book Magazine has dubbed it, and become an Official BookCrossing Zone.

Okay, you may be asking, what is BookCrossing? Well, basically it's about passing on your used books to other people for free. But anonymously, to complete strangers, instead of to friends and family. The three 'R's of BookCrossing are

Read it!
Register it!
Release it!

This is how the system works. You read a book, you visit and register that book, giving it a unique number which is attached either on the cover or on the inside cover, using your own book labels or one specially downloaded from the website, then you just release the book ... leave it on a park bench, on a cafe table, at a bus stop, in a church. When it's found, the person who takes it home with them will hopefully read the label, visit the bookcrossing site, and notify them that the book has been found. Then they read it, and release it again. Simple as that.

Naturally, it's NOT as simple as that. Many books are released into the wild, as it's called, and never heard of again. Very depressing for the releaser. But many are registered on the site as having been found, and are then passed on again, all over the world. Pretty neat idea!

To facilitate book exchanges, some places have been designated as BookCrossing Zones. And to come full circle, Summersault Cafe in Rugby is just such a place.

As you can see from this photo, the books are kept in a small bookcase near the door, with a sign explaining the process and letting people know that these particular books are FREE and can be taken home. You go in, browse the books, take one home, register it, read it, take it back and pass it on again.

I've just picked up a cookery book there today, a Dan Brown novel for one of my teenage daughters, and a couple of younger reader books for the kids. On the BookCrossing site you can find out if there's an Official BookCrossing Zone near you or who's registered on the scheme in your area, when the last books were released there and exactly where. This scheme is global, of course, so your books can travel anywhere and you will be notified by email when someone finds them, even if they end up in Peru! It's an amazing network of leads and book stories for you to follow and the BookCrossing worldwide discussion forum makes fascinating reading ...

Here's a link to the Bookcrossing site. Why not join them and register one of your books today, then release it ...

n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

(added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in August 2004)


Sorlil said...

it sure is a fun idea, although I'm rather attached to my books - I may look out one and give it a shot!

Jane Holland said...

I know EXACTLY how you feel. I was rooting through mine today to find one suitable and it was really tough, choosing one that I could bear to part with. In the end, I rather naughtily chose one of my own as my first BookCrossing offering. Well ... I've got plenty of copies of my first novel, might as well spread 'em about a bit!

Thanks for reading my blog!


Sorlil said...

ha ha that is naughty, though good for marketing!