Sharing is caring, they say.
So when I met my uncle-in-law’s girlfriend this weekend, and we discussed our favourite books and authors, she thought it was appropriate to go beyond mere discussion. She left behind a copy of the latest from one of her favourite writers, Robert Goddard. It wasn’t her favourite of his storylines, she said, but she thought I’d like his style and she wanted to introduce me to his work. And it’s not a book I probably would have picked up in a store, maybe not even in a library, but I’m thrilled to death with the opportunity to try it out.
It brought me back to my high school days, when my close friends and I traded books back and forth – recommendations, sure, but also hard copies of ones we’d recently read and enjoyed. My recent maid-of-honour was my main book-trading partner, and she was my direct supplier for the sorts of supernatural romances I would’ve been too shy to check out from the library. (Am I dating myself if I admit that was pre-Twilight supernatural romance? No, surely I’m not old enough yet to be dating myself.)
Hopefully I gave her something to read in return; I can’t quite remember. But I know I remember and value the stories we shared . . . and they gave us common cause for conversation, too. Who says reading is antisocial?
The truth is, if books were never meant to be shared, they should’ve been. Sharing a book can be a great bonding experience, an overture towards friendship, or just a general human kindness to bestow upon an unsuspecting world. Hoard books to yourself and they’re trapped on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust and inspiring no one. Heaven knows that’s never what they were meant to do. But the book that you’ve long forgotten, maybe even never liked in the first place, could be the one that ignites somebody else’s life, inspires their mind, or rocks their world.
So why not set them free?
Which brings me to the brilliant idea of BookCrossing, the website that combines books with serendipity and tracks each volume to see what happens. The basic idea is this: after reading a book, register it with BookCrossing and set it free in the wild, wherever you happen to be. Try being creative – maybe leave it at the zoo or a museum, or on a bench in a park, or on the subway. Then, when somebody else picks it up, they can go to the BookCrossing website and learn about where it came from and who had it before.
Let’s talk about books in the wild in Canada. There are more than 1,000 out there at current numbers, with 192 of these roaming my home province of Ontario. (British Columbia is the country’s haven for wild books with a whopping 384 volumes living in the wild.) Toronto makes us look good with nearly 60 wild books on its streets, but I know how big Toronto is. Personally, I’m more impressed by the fact that there are 14 books on the loose in Oshawa, 10 in Barrie, and 20 in Shakespeare – not huge cities by any stretch of the imagination.
What a thrill to follow the stories of each of these books as they travel through the wide world and encounter reading fans across space and time! But there are more stories, untold stories, of books like my new Robert Goddard paperback – books that aren’t being tracked online but still have a story to tell. And who can appreciate a good story more than a book lover?
I wonder what stories I’ve participated in without knowing about it. Where do my books go when they leave my home? Sometimes they get lost or left behind. Other times they’re donated, usually to a shelter for battered women. Whose lives are they touching? Or maybe they’re providing a welcome distraction . . . but a distraction from what? And where will they travel next?
I only know that, if reading can change the way a person views the world, then BookCrossing.com is absolutely right. Whether or not you’re tracking the book in its travels, it definitely qualifies as “serendipity in action”.