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Making the Whole World a Library Spreads the Word

I haven't been touched by the BookCrossing angel yet. I've been poking around in coffee shops, checking out bus stops for lost items (as I'm prone to do), but the labeled, "traveling" books have evaded me thus far.

According to my scientific survey, which consisted of asking my friends and posting on Craig's List to find out if anyone had been involved, not many locals are participating (yet?) in this self-proclaimed "global book club."

However, the BookCrossing has almost 50,000 members in the United States, with many thousands more worldwide, so someone must be involved. Quite a few someones., created by benevolent software-company owner and book-lover Ron Hornbaker, has gotten significant media attention -- positive write-ups in Book Magazine and the New York Times, and mention on NPR interviews, among other hits.

I loved the idea when I read about it -- what's not to like about freeing books into the wilds and tracking their progress from person to person via the Internet?

In my fantasy, however, the books are really good, and they get passed from person to person without ever getting sold to a used bookstore. I don't know if that's possible in the Bay Area. Let's investigate…

According to their website, BookCrossing has 538 registered members in San Francisco, and 793 books have been released in the city. At first glance, recently "caught" and registered books around the world include The Best Laid Plans by Sidney Sheldon and Deck the Halls by Mary Higgins Clark.

Initially, this information seems to confirm my fear: People are willing to give up books from the "Salvation Army" pile, but not to give up quality items that can be resold at Green Apple or a trillion other cash-for-used-books stores.

I dig a little deeper.

With some research, I discover that in the past two days, a copy of Sexual Personae: Decadence from Nerfertiti to Emily Dickinson was left at the Beanery Café on Ninth Ave. and Judah, and Northern Edge: A Novel of Survival in Alaska's Arctic was freed in the San Francisco Shopping Center. That's more like it. I could read these books. If I were in the area, I might even be inspired to do a little treasure hunting.

I realize that I could just be assertive and start labeling and leaving books myself. But that seems to defeat the organic growth of an endeavor like this. It's so much more fun to be selected by the whimsy first. I want to find a book on a bus.

The folks at BookCrossing have big hopes. They want the process to be "a fascinating exercise in fate, karma or whatever you want to call the chain of events that can occur between two or more lives and one piece of literature." The website includes opportunities to join contests, meet other "BookCrossers" and buy books from a well-rounded list of stores.

On principle, I support anything that gets people excited about reading, Oprah's departed book club included. I think I'll just have to wait for my karma-ful book to find me before I join.

If you're intrigued, visit