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January 16, 2009

Set Your Books Free

This Extra Ink was written by Betsy C.

I love my books. Seriously. You've heard me on this subject before: the scent of old paper, the familiar weight of a childhood favorite, the memories that just looking at a long-untouched paperback can bring rushing back. A used book always makes me wonder who might have loved it in the past--in whose backpack it might have bumped around with pencils and calculators, on whose shelf it might have lived before my own. And though sometimes I really wish I knew, often a mysterious margin note or dog-eared page makes me love a book all the more.

Well, have you ever heard the phrase "if you love something, let it go?" BookCrossing.com has been applying that message to books in a seriously brilliant way since 2001. People all over the world are registering their books on the site, writing the provided serial numbers on the inside covers, and then releasing them "into the wild" in coffee shops, on buses, and pretty much everywhere you can imagine. Once a curious soul picks up the book and sees the note and serial number from the original owner, he or she can head on over to Book Crossing and make a journal entry to mark a step on the book's journey. The new owner will then hopefully read the book and leave it somewhere else, only to be discovered again . . . and on and on in a potentially globe-spanning adventure for a little book that might otherwise have sat forgotten on someone's bottom shelf forever. The site has more than five million books registered in over 100 countries, so there's almost definitely a book in your area playing hide-and-seek right now.

You can begin your own Book Crossing adventure by registering books and 'releasing' them yourself, or you can 'hunt' by sweeping the site for released books in your area. In fact, if you're very, very lucky, you might even come across one of the books I'm releasing today! (In addition to being lucky, you probably have to live in Massachusetts. Ah, well.)

Mind you, I'm not saying you should give up your whole library and send it out into the big wide world--if you do, you're a braver soul than I. But if you want to share your favorite book with some kind strangers and still keep your beloved old original for yourself, you should do what I'm doing: head over to your favorite used bookstore and grab an extra copy. That way, you can keep your sentimental collection intact and still bring the unexpected joy of a great read to someone who might really need it.

image from BookCrossing.com

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