Greeks join global book-sharing trend

If you come across a book that has been left on a bench, next to a statue, or on your parked motorbike, blame the bookcrossers. Since 2001, more than 3 million books have changed hands through bookcrossing, whereby people leave books in public places so that others find them, read them and pass them on to the next reader. «The aim is to turn the whole world into a library,» says Ron Hornbaker, co-founder of BookCrossing, the website which started the trend. On the day the bookcrossers met, pedestrian Dionysiou Aeropagitou Street didn’t look like an outdoor library, but people passing by certainly noticed something different. Scattered around were books with stickers that read «Free» or «Don’t throw me away.» At the statue of General Makryiannis, some elderly women were using their canes to try and dislodge a book that was tucked under the warrior’s arm, while others were gazing around, wondering if they had been targeted by Candid Camera. A few decided to adopt the books temporarily. «It is a bit idealistic,» admitted sociology student Daphne, 19. «We like to imagine that someone has found our book and has been touched by it but it could have wound up in the trash.» Daphne organizes the annual meetings of the Athenian bookcrossers, which, as 23-year-old psychology student Maria informs me, «are not a group of intellectuals sitting around and talking about good books.» On the contrary, they are an opportunity for people who love books to get together, to assemble a pile of books on the coffee-shop table and answer any questions from newcomers. How many books manage to make this ambitious journey? «A small percentage, 15-20 percent,» estimates Yiannis, 29, who is a journalist. «It’s my impression that many books change hands,» Maria says. «People will leave the book somewhere without saying so, either because they are not familiar with the system or that they haven’t understood the game. But they do realize the idea is to leave the book somewhere.» Some books travel great distances. They tell me of one that went from the Samaria Gorge on Crete to Poland. And «Apocalisse 23» by Michele Fabbri has been passed on to 114 readers. Sometimes you don’t find out the fate of your book, but bookcrossers have another system of sharing. «I played hooky from school to liberate my first books in the National Gardens,» says Natalia, 16. «I left about 15 books. None of them was found, so I gave up bookcrossing for quite some time.» That was until she received by post a book that had traveled from member to member, through the bookcrossing circle. In such a case, the itinerary of the book is predetermined, going to those who have put their name on a list, and it comes back to its original owner. Some people fear that this sharing might affect book prices, Caroline Martin, general manager of HarperPress, said in 2005 that bookcrossing might do to the book industry what Napster did to the music industry. Evi, 38, a public servant, disagrees. «I used to buy books based on my own experience or on what I heard from friends. Now something might come into my hands that I would never have chosen myself,» she says. That way she gets to know new writers, she added. Bookcrossing is probably too generous a practice, like a child’s treasure hunt, to have enemies. Last Christmas Athenian bookcrossers sang carols as they handed out books, though some saw them simply as jolly door-to-door sales people. How easy is it to let go of something you love? «Bookcrossing makes you relinquish the notion of ownership,» says Elisso, 33. «What we say is that once a book is out of our hands, it is no longer ours in any case, so whatever happens to it is not our business.» (1) Both of the articles on this page first appeared in the October 29, 2006 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.