SOCIETY

Bookcrossing, a literary scavenger hunt

Next time you?re in an Athens metro station or in a downtown coffee shop, take a look around and you might find a book that has been covertly tucked into a corner. It may seem like it has been lost or forgotten but it?s very likely that it has been left there deliberately. Such books are part of a recent phenomenon known as bookcrossing.

A US-based website that urges members to ?release books into the wild,? Bookcrossing.com takes the message-in-a-bottle concept one step further. Rather than leaving them to languish on shelves, the site encourages people to give their unwanted books away and track them as they travel. According to the site, the act ?combines serendipity, adventure, altruism and literature in a unique mix that true bibliophiles find irresistible.?

Those who want to give away a book register it on the website. Once registered, the book receives a unique ID. The book owner then labels the book with the ID and bookcrossing information. With the book registered and labeled, the owner leaves the book somewhere ? anywhere ? to be found.

Though it isn?t required, the ?releaser? of the book can report its location on the site with as much or as little information as he or she chooses, making bookcrossing a kind of scavenger hunt. Whoever finds the book can use its ID number on the website to leave a journal entry about it or see where else it?s been. To find a book, you can peruse the site and search for books by location.

At the moment, the site has members from over 130 countries, including Greece, where some 200 books have been released, in places as far from Athens as Crete and Corfu.

?Books have a richer life if they travel,? Grace Christovasilis, a Greek bookcrosser who became active after visiting the website, explains.

While participants usually bookcross independently, the bookcrossing community in Greece is trying to spread the word and unite those involved. Since 2006, bookcrossing conventions have been held annually in Athens and Thessaloniki, allowing people who have found and given away books to meet. This year?s convention was held in Thessaloniki and included outings and a discussion on the books and the Internet. In addition to the conventions, there are groups that meet on a more regular basis. One group in Athens meets on the last Sunday of every month.

Those interested in picking up a book but who don?t feel like searching for one can look for a bookcrossing ?zone? ? a designated place for people to drop off and pick up books. Like a library, you can check what books each zone has on the website or just drop in and take one. Bookcrossing zones in Athens can be found at Ethnique (17 Kydonion, Nea Smyrni), Rooster?s Walk (4 Aghias Irinis, Monastiraki), Sonsie (2 Diomeias, Syntagma), Ash in Art (1 Lachouri