I once found a book in a tree.
It was one of Patrick O’Brian’s nautical novels, and someone had wedged it in the crook of two branches, just high enough for me to reach if I stretched. I don’t know if they left it there hoping that someone would see it and take it, or if they had hidden it there hoping that no one would find it. It seemed quite a landlubber-y place for an O’Brian book to end up. I took a picture of the book, left it there and walked on.
A friend who lives in Ireland once found a book in a seat pocket of an airplane. “The fantastic thing about this book is that it has two boarding passes as bookmarks inside from the previous reader,” she wrote me. “One for Yeti Airlines (yes, seriously), with a stamp from Bharatpur (no idea where that is, will have to look it up). And one for Buddha Air, Flight 606. This book is absolutely calling me.”
She took the book with her, read it, and then mailed it to me with the provision that when I was done with it, I send it on. “I have this idea of this book traveling the world,” she wrote.
The book was about a Brit who manages a Holiday Inn in Tibet (“Running a Hotel on the Roof of the World,” by Alec Le Sueur). I liked it so much I bought two copies for friends, then mailed the original to a friend in western Canada, urging her to send it on when she was done with it.
That was in 2008, and for all I know the book is traveling still.
There are so many ways to give books. Yes, you can buy one and wrap it up and leave it under a tree or next to a birthday cake, and I hope you do, over and over throughout your life.
But you can also be mysterious, leaving beloved books where strangers might happen across them. There are, of course, plenty of Little Free Libraries, and that is one way to do it. But I also like the creative, more subversive ways. (Though perhaps the crook of a tree is too subtle.)
Aaron Curtis, who works at Books & Books in south Florida, reads books on vacation and then leaves them behind. “Maybe I’ve just seen ‘Amelie’ one too many times,” he told me. “I love the idea of a found object that can change your life.
“I think most people who don’t enjoy reading haven’t found the right book; they were force-fed titles in school that made reading a chore. Maybe a literal ‘found’ book — at an airport lounge, tucked into the pocket of an airplane seat, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office — will charm someone into a love of reading. I always put the start date and the finish date, so they know it wasn’t left by mistake.”
In England, the Books on the Underground movement has been leaving books (some with personal notes) on London’s subways since 2012. As with any good movement, participants have a Facebook page and are on Twitter, and they will send you stickers to paste inside the books if you wish to take part.
Some bookstores take a slightly different approach. They don’t give the books away — they are, after all, in the business of selling. But they do offer “a blind date with a book,” in which they wrap up a book, affix a note hinting at the contents and hope that someone will take a chance.
(And people do.)
How about you? Do you leave books in the wild for strangers to find? Have you ever come across an abandoned book — and taken it? Did you find some good writers that way?
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll include your stories in a future column.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks