Setting literature free

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 17, No 2 (Summer 2006)

Andrew Taylor

While in Toronto recently, I discovered an abandoned paperback book in a public lobby — Tom Clancy's Hunt for Red October. It turned out to be a liberated book, set there on purpose to be taken by some random stranger to read and then to re-release into the wild. It was a Bookcrossing book, set free by one of that site's 460,000-plus members.

Bookcrossing is one of many such object-tracking sites, like Where's George, where site members let objects go and then track where they wander in the world. For Bookcrossing, members register their book on-line, get a unique ID number which they write on the book, and slap on a sticker encouraging whoever finds the book to post where and when they found it, and perhaps to leave a comment, as well.

The result is a wonderful combination of book club, hunting game, and collective on-line travel journal. I particularly love the sense of play and openness the web site and its members represent. Literature is something to be given away to strangers, and something to be discovered by happy accident, like some little Easter egg of thought.
Turns out the Bookcrosser's convention was in Toronto at the same time I was — hence the several such books I saw laying around in public places. According to one Bookcrossing enthusiast who traveled all the way from Australia to Toronto for the convention:

“People become BookCrossers because there is a great sense of fun and adventure. Apart from getting to read and enjoy more books, the thrill of having a complete stranger catch a book you've released into the wild, and comment on it, is something that sends me singing and dancing and leaping around the house. Silly really. But fun.”

If only all of our audiences were that silly, and all of our cultural initiatives were that contagious.

Andrew Taylor is director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration

This was originally published May 1, 2006 on The Artful Manager, his blog at ArtsJournal.