Sunday, August 15, 2010

If You Read Something, Set It Free

What do we do with books?

Libraries aside, we buy them, put them on a shelf for a bit, take them down and read them, and then put them back on a shelf. After a time, we might go back and read them again. Sometimes we lend them out to people we trust. Inevitably, they go back to their shelf to wait some more. Most of our books live on their shelf forever - collected and admired, but not feeling very useful.

It seems like a bit of a waste to me. All these ideas that someone laboured over to create. All the hands needed to print those ideas on a page and to sell those pages to someone like me. These are valuable things that deserve more than to simply collect dust for the majority of their useful lives.

I thought about all this after recalling an attempt to give one book its freedom. It was August 2008 and we were visiting Costa Rica. I was reading Joe Hill's 'Heart-Shaped Box' while on our travels and finished it late one night while a Pacific Ocean blow threatened to flood our hotel room. I loved the book, but I was thinking that maybe I didn't need to lug its hard-cover back to Canada.

My plan: I'd leave the book in the hotel room for someone else to enjoy. Lest someone think the book was left behind by mistake, I wrote a little inscription on the inside cover. I think it went something like this:

This is for you, Stranger. I loved this book and now it's someone else's turn to maybe love it, too. Whether you read or not - and if you feel so inclined - let me know what you think.

P.S. And when you're done, feel free to leave your own message and pass the book along!

No one ever wrote. But in my disappointment I like to think my book felt useful to someone else and maybe it's not sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Remembering this has me thinking about my books, again. I think I have too many books that I don't need, so it's time to donate a bunch to those who might find them enjoyable. It's a tough thing, cleaning off a bookshelf, and I know there will be many volumes that I will keep just because I can't bear not to have them around. As for the others, those that will earn their freedom, I'll hope they feel as useful somewhere else as they were to me.


David said...

Maybe the maid has it. Maybe she doesn't speak English...yet. This will be her key to freedom in the new world. Then, one day, she will read you message, understand the gift of language you have given her, and will send you an e-mail from her small apartment in Manhattan where she is making a new life for herself.

That's definitely going to happen. That would be "proptor", don't you thin? CAPTCHA wins again!

Crazylegs said...

You are the epitamy of silver linings, David. I had never considered that Joe Hill's fascination with the dark arts (likely a result of long, lonely winters spent locked up in his father's study) could mean a better life for our Spanish-speaking friends.

In *my* imaginary world, the book has water-damage and a cracked spine. It's sitting in a street vendor's stall under the hot Costa Rican sun on the tourist beach-strip in Manual Antonio. Enter: The Girl. She is American, 21, rather plain looking, and travelling alone. She's trying to find herself - not realizing that her choices lie between the life of a hipster and life of a relief worker for a second-tier NGO.

She spies the book and buys it for nearly nothing. Guilt drives her to buy some local doodad that looks indigenous just because it's made of clay and poorly decorated. She can't decide whether the exchange is ironic or a simple juxtaposition.

She sighs and wanders onto the beach to make a nest for the afternoon. Sleepy, her eyes close and she dreams of getting laid under clean sheets. She'll go home soon enough, she thinks.


David said...

I like your story better. Especially since it involves sex and guilt. Very "dramolan".

Kid Dork said...

I wish I could part with books. But I somehow think they have souls, and by leaving them somewhere, it's like abandoning a kitten. Which explains why books like KILLER WARRIOR and PATRIOT GAMES still lurk on my shelves like ungrateful, pissing tomcats.

Greg Fowler said...

BookCrossing. It'll set you free.