Back in 2003, I was obliviously hustling through Madison Square Park, rushing from someplace unimportant to someplace equally unimportant, when my eye chanced upon a practically brand-new copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man just sitting there naked and alone on a park bench. Thing is, I had been dying to read that very novel for a few months, ever since seeing the first of the fabulous William Powell/Myrna Loy vehicles. And there it was, placed in my path (or very nearly) by book angels or fate or the tempting demons who hound my every step.
I skidded to a halt and glanced around. Had someone merely gotten up to can her garbage? To shoo a pigeon? To collar his dog? To bag up her child?* But no, there was no one around but the usual collection of odd jobs talking to themselves and the trees.
So I nabbed the book, cried out, “Ha HA!” and hurried away, feeling it was a harbinger of great things to come.
Later, I opened the book and discovered a BookCrossing.com label. I’d never before heard of this strange, passionate group who practice a kind of reading socialism, but here’s the gist of what each registered member does: She reads a book, decides she doesn’t need to own it forever and ever, so registers it on the site, prints out a label with that book’s ID number, and sticks the label in or on the book. Then she leaves the book somewhere conspicuous for a stranger to find. That stranger then logs the book in on the site, maybe adds a note or two about it, then releases the book again somewhere else. Afterward, you can track your books as they make their weird peregrinations around the country and the world.
In my case, I released my copy of The Thin Man in a cafe in San Diego. Someone picked it up there and took it to San Francisco, then gave it to a friend on her way to Los Angeles, where it has remained these past six years. Have been meaning to put more books out into the wild, but forgot about this site in the hurly-burly of the everyday. Still, perhaps I’ll release a few books in Chicago when I am there this weekend.
Does anyone else use Bookcrossings? What’s the farthest your books have traveled?
*I’m clearly still puzzling out this whole childcare thing.