Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bookcrossing - Books in the city

The following is a small article I wrote (mostly for my own enjoyment) about the excellent work of Bookcrossing.com. It's very cool (the website, not the article, which if anything, is slightly manically enthusiastic). I’ve finally found the perfect hobby.

As a fan of lists, feeling different (in this case, a grand literary benefactor), hiding things, and the use of stickers in general, the website www.BookCrossing.com is as close to being a secret agent or member of the Secret Seven as a thirty-four year old girl can get without using the phrase ‘intel’ or hunting down smugglers in her spare time.

Back in the day, I had two great hobbies: reading (The Famous Five, Trixie Belden) and writing (wistful rhyming poems) and doing both in the library, where everyone knows only the cool kids hang.

My sad little hobbies kept me absorbed and delighted to the point of social non-existence throughout school and most of uni, until I discovered boys who used beer as hair gel and put me ‘on the door’ to see bands so loud I can still hear a distant drum solo.

After the beer hair boys came and went – six to eight years with good behaviour, known as The Years of Love Gone Wrong – I turned my hobby into my career. Reading still lurks about, only it’s now called research.

Since then I’ve been fishing around for a replacement hobby so I wouldn’t fall back on bad habits and start believing in Satan just because I saw him on stage with a bass guitar.

Then mere seconds before I called the WEA for a place on the scrapbooking workshop I found BookCrossing.com – some might say just in time. It’s a website set up with the aim of turning the whole world into a library.

Clearly this is something anyone with any sense would want to be involved in. And since joining, I’ve discovered about 1,700 very sensible, and some might say lovely, people in Adelaide have done just that.

As part of my research for the books I write, I’ve been alarmed by the various dodgy communities that have grown via the internet. People have embraced everything from dressing up like furry animals to a shared fascination with the texture of balloons or the TV show FarScape.

I gleefully wrote about them from my lofty heights of mirth until I too joined their merry band.

To get involved you simply order (or download and print yourself) stickers to identity it as a BookCrossing book, give each book a number pulled from the site once you’ve keyed in the details, and then ‘release’ it for someone to find. Then hopefully that person will log on with the identifying number, and so on, creating a travel diary for that book.

I admit I didn’t find the website by searching for ways to make the world a better place. I actually just Googled myself like a dork. Instead of finding my own website and the fact that my first novel is now selling second hand on eBay, I found that some of the books I’d written had already been ‘released’ around the world.

Initially I got myself into quite the to-do thinking some German lady had dumped my searing tale of lap-dancing and misadventure. But then I realised that the books you ‘release’ are ones you’d like to share with others because you liked them. Or felt guilty for having them in the ‘to read’ pile for too long.

There was even a bunch of book reviews: some good, some ice cold. But happily, one of the skills of being a writer, even before you’ve written your first poem of dysfunction, is to learn patience, merciless determination, and how to deal with rejection and bad feedback.

The fact that these skills also became very useful in The Years of Love Gone Wrong was just a happy coincidence.

The other bonus is that now I’m also part of a gang. We don’t fight on the streets or set fire to cars but we do read a lot and that can be a bit scary, especially if, like me, you turn down the corners of a friend’s favourite copy of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.

I walked about town weighed down with books which was good for two reasons: I got to exercise the equivalent of an Olsen twin from each leg and I’ve discovered parts of Adelaide I never knew about.

I dropped off books at hole 7 of the North Adelaide golf course (a tremendous view of the city and opportunity to plot the abduction of a golf buggy from those golf wags), the bus stop outside the op shop on Magill Road (where I spotted a set of great files for my office), the bench by the River Torrens in Walkerville (where the handrails were so warped by the recent water overflow and rubbish that I was forced to do a superhero hurdle to the path).

I left books in a phone booths in Walkerville, outside the Perryman’s Bakery in North Adelaide (unbeatable pies and pasties), on benches dotted between Richard’s Park and Sir Edmund Smith Walk in Norwood and on the path leading down to the little scultpures on the River Torrens (see pic).

Along the way I found a tiny playground tucked between side streets, helped a woman with her baby stroller, tripped over and grazed both knees (what am I, six?) and discovered that wearing sneakers with normal clothes makes me look like Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl.

I’ve since ‘released’ 26 books and more than two million books have been released worldwide and BookCrossing has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a new word.

But if you’re the type to worry (another of those basic ‘must haves’ for any writer) that this ‘world as a library’ just reeks of world domination and that before you can say Orbital Mind-Control Laser, it’ll be illegal to talk over a whisper in a public place or take a book into the bathroom, just think about how nice it would be if there were helpful and smart librarian-types, like Katharine Hepburn’s character in Desk Set, wandering the world,

So check your suspicions – and large bags - at the door and help turn the world into a library.

For me, the choice was easy and not just because I can see the appeal of a well placed librarian-style ‘Shhh!’ thanks to living in an apartment squashed between a rowdy football pub and a building site, where daily conversation is peppered with the sort of words I wouldn’t even use in a fight to the death.

It’s just a nice idea and there should be more of those.

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