Well, you’re probably wondering what this Bookcrossing thing is all about. Basically, it involves giving away books. To complete strangers.
Ok, so now you think I’m really weird, but bear with me. If you’re a booklover, then you’ve probably got shelves full of books, just sitting there collecting dust. “But they’re my favourites!” you exclaim, “I love every single one of them!”. But be honest – how many of them have you actually re-read in the last year? How many of them are you really likely to re-read in the future? (And of those, how many would it be impossible to get from the library?) So why not let your books collect new friends instead of collecting dust? Bookcrossing lets you set them free to adventure through the big wide world, meeting (and hopefully inspiring) new people, maybe encouraging someone who wouldn’t normally read to pick up a book.
Ok, that’s the philosophy, what about the practicalities? Well, what you do is select a book that you’d like to set free (it might be one you loved, that you want to share with the world; or it might be one you didn’t like that much, but think someone else will appreciate more; or it might even be that weird book your well-meaning aunt gave you that you know you’ll never actually get round to reading), then go to www.bookcrossing.com and register it to get a BCID. The BCID is a unique identification number for that particular copy of the book. You write the BCID inside the book, along with a short message telling people that if they find the book, they should go to Bookcrossing.com and make a journal entry. If you don’t feel like handwriting a message, you can download labels from the site (and various fan sites) to print off, or even buy professionally printed stickers from the Supply Store. Then comes the fun bit: releasing the book. The basic idea is you just leave the book somewhere for someone to find. Maybe leave it behind on the bus, or drop it on an empty table in a cafe, or sit it on a park bench (for outdoor releases it’s a good idea to protect your book from the weather with a clear plastic bag)… it’s entirely up to you. Releases can range from the safety of handing the book directly to a friend, to the imagination of “themed releases”, where you release the book somewhere related to its title (like when I released a book called Oil near a petrol station). You can then leave release notes in the book’s journal.
Ok, I haven’t explained about the journals yet, have I? Every book has a journal. It consists of journal entries and release notes made by people who have had that book. You can only make a journal entry if you know the BCID. In particular, the first three digits of the BCID, which are kept secret – the only place they are recorded is inside the book (and deep in the Bookcrossing database, of course, but hopefully nobody can see them there!), so the only people who can possibly know the BCID (and hence make a journal entry), are those who have actually found the book. As the book travels, it collects more and more journal entries, eventually building up to a history of the book. And whenever anyone makes a new journal entry, everyone else who’s ever made a journal entry on that book gets an email, letting them keep track of its progress from reader to reader. It’s kind of like sending out a message in a bottle.
Of course, not everyone who finds a Bookcrossing book will actually go to the site and journal it (it’s been estimated that only around 20% of books released get journalled). Maybe they don’t have a computer or internet access, or maybe they just don’t beleive that someone would actually want to give away a book without there being some sort of catch. So some of the books you release might just disappear, without you ever hearing from them again. But I like to think that those books are still being read and loved by someone new, who might eventually pass them on, and one day maybe I’ll get an email telling me that one of my missing books has finally found its way into the hands of someone who actually went to the site and journalled their find. There’s been reports on the Bookcrossing forums of books that have been “missing in action” for a couple of years suddenly being journalled. And I’m sure we’ve all heard about elderly people getting replies from the messages in bottles they sent out when they were children… who knows, in 50 years time, I might get an email (or whatever we have then!) telling me about a book I released way back in 2004 and had given up for lost…
As well as the “Three R’s” of Bookcrossing (Reading, Registering, and Releasing), a whole community has built up around the idea, with people trading books, organising bookrings (where a book is given a pre-planned travel route, with participants in the ring mailing the book on to the next person), getting together with other Bookcrossers in their area for meetups, release events, even conventions (the first World Bookcrossing Convention was held in the USA earlier this year, with another planned for 2005, and I’m going over to Sydney next month to take part in the first Australian Bookcrossers Conference). Plus of course, there’s forums on the website (what internet activity doesn’t have an associated forum these days?), where along with helpful hints and tips, and general chat, there are RABKs, games, challenges, book relays, sweepstakes… (I’ll leave defining those terms as an exercise for the reader (as they used to say in the best textbooks) Go and check out the website, because finding out is half the fun!)
Oh, and the most important thing I should tell you is that Bookcrossing is totally private, and totally free. You won’t get any spam (other than an occasional newsletter from the site, which you have the option not to receive), they won’t sell your email address to anyone, and all communication between Bookcrossers is by Private Message, where neither party’s email address is divulged. Also, there’s no joining fee, though if you want to you can help fund the site (which is run as a “labour of love” by a very small team of dedicated people – bit like DearDiary, really!) by making donations or buying from the Supply Store.
Anyway, go and check out Bookcrossing.com, and if you like the sound of it, join up! Tell them FutureCat sent you
P.S. If you recognise the emoticat, and were wondering: yes, it is me I decided it was about time to reinvent myself (hopefully this time as someone who doesn’t let their diary go for 6 months without an entry). After all, it seemed to work for Harold…