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.