On a recent dark and wintry Monday night, I found a paperback tucked between the seats of a westbound Dundas streetcar. It was called You Can't Do That In Canada! Crazy Laws From Coast To Coast, written by Bev Spencer.
It was inscribed with a note:
"I figure that this is a read-once-and-pass-it-on book, and perhaps this can be the beginning of the TTC Public Library, a step up from free newspapers left in vehicles. Enjoy - Pass it on - And feel free to leave others, with your own note in the cover. G!"
Another inscription on the opposite page revealed a little bit more about "G": "Gregor, your sense of whimsy made me get this for you."
The accompanying signature is difficult to make out, but appears to say "Love Mummy." (Gregor gave away a book his mother gave him!)
Amused, I snapped some photos. The woman in the seat next to me had just finished doing the same. Finding the book, she told me, had vastly improved her day. "And it's pretty funny, too," she said.
I flipped to a page about an outdated law stating that you are not allowed to pay for a 26-cent item with 26 pennies anywhere in Canada. "The limit is 25 cents," it said. It was so stupid that I laughed.
But could a TTC Public Library actually get off the ground? Wouldn't workers gather up the books at the end of the day and get rid of them? (According to ttc.ca, all items found on TTC property by employees or riders are sent to the TTC lost articles office.)
Brad Ross, head of communications at the TTC, has heard about the TTC Public Library and says it poses challenges - namely, that it would be hard for employees to tell which books were for the "library" and which had been accidentally forgotten. "It's a nice idea, and we'd have no issue with people leaving books behind for others in a random sort of way, but taking on any kind of administration of such a program isn't something we could do."
But that's okay. Leaving behind books for others in a random sort of way is, in fact, the beauty of the idea. It's a chance to share a love of reading. A chance to foster community. A chance for, as Gregor's mummy says, whimsy. It's why the pop-up library movement has taken off, DIY book-loaning boxes appearing on front lawns and in neighbourhoods across the world. (See littlefreelibrary.org for some in Toronto.)
Back on the westbound streetcar, I considered what little-used books on my own shelves I could contribute, and what I might write in my note to fellow commuters.
Would it be worth leaving a book, knowing it would likely disappear into the lost-and-found that night? I put the question to my new passenger friend, who smiled.
"Even if we only get to read the books over the course of a day, it's still worth it."
Wise and true. And if nothing else, a TTC Public Library might get us talking to each other.