Monday, July 19, 2004

Loose books blog.

When it comes to reading, I’m fairly promiscuous. I’ll hop into bed with any book that promises a good read, sometimes literally. At the Schaumburg commuter rail station, the township library maintains a bookcase of giveaway books. Sometimes, the library stocks it with excess volumes; sometimes other people unload unwanted books there. Anyone can leave or pick up books there, no charge.

Mostly, they’re junk. Beaten-up romance titles. Teen novels. Old self-help books, which age almost as quickly and to similar smelliness as dairy products. But I inspect the shelves anyway, because randomness ought to be a factor in any literate person’s reading habits. Something might turn up.

Recently something did. I picked up a book because of its intrinsic reading value, and because it sported some intriguing labels -- BookCrossing labels. I’d never heard of that.

On the inside cover, a white label says: “Howdy! Hola! Bonjour! Guten Tag! I’m a very special book. You see, I’m traveling around the world making new friends. I hope I’ve met another friend in you. Please go to and enter my BCID number (shown below). You’ll discover where I’ve been and who has read me, and can let them know I’m safe here in your hands. Then… READ and RELEASE me!”

I had to look that up. “ [says that web site] is a labor of love that was conceived and is maintained by Humankind Systems Inc., a software and Internet development company with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, and Sandpoint, Idaho. … Humankind partner Ron Hornbaker sought to create a community site that would be the first of its kind, that would give back to the world at large, and that would provide warm fuzzy feelings whenever he worked on it. was the result.

“The idea came to Ron back in March of 2001, as he and his wife Kaori were admiring the site, which tracks disposable cameras loosed into the wild. He already knew about the popularity of (which tracks U.S. currency by serial number), and that got him thinking: what other physical object might people enjoy tracking? A few minutes later, after a glance at his full bookshelf, the idea of Books came to mind…

“… on April 17, 2001, was launched with a simple $500 press release, the last time money has been spent promoting the site. Members trickled in at the rate of 100 or so per month, by word of mouth, until March of 2002 when the Book magazine article was published. Since then, the BookCrossing phenomenon has been the focus of countless TV, radio, and newspaper features, between 200 and 500 new members from around the world join every day… The fact that it has captured the passion and imagination of around 273,961 people worldwide, so quickly, has both surprised and deeply gratified BookCrossing's founders.”

Either “countless” TV, radio and newspaper features is hyperbole, or I’m out of touch with most media, or both. I also wonder about “around 273,961 people,” but that’s just an editor’s bias I have for rounding numbers that cannot really be precise. Small quibbles. I input the book’s ID number and discovered that it had journeyed all the way from Hoffman Estates, Illinois --- a neighboring town --- to wind up in my hands, and that I’m the second possessor since its registration. I will have to give a better send off when I “release” it.


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