There?s been lots of noise recently about Book Crossing, that global system where books are ?released? to the ?wilds,? i.e., left in cafés, public transit, streets, etc., and their history tracked over time (www.bookcrossing.com).
Crossing has members all over the world - 39,162 in Canada, 255,308 in the U.S., 751 in Iran, but only eight in Togo. The website records up to the minute, all the books released everywhere. By the way, there was one left five hours ago on a park bench on Windermere north of Bloor.
But of course, you don't just release books; you register them with Big Brother online so that it really happened. I've been doing it all wrong. Thankfully, I'm not the only one.
I find an abandoned book like the big fat one I found recently called Ragtime. I carry it home to discover the text is breathtakingly incoherent and not even about music.
I take it to a streetcar stop and leave it on the bench for some rider to pick up, and I never tell the computer a thing about it. Then I'm lost as usual on the way to the osteopath who is curing my head noise in an office north of Casa Loma when I see a whole stretch of books laid out on a lawn on Dupont or Davenport or whichever.
Not just the usual technical manuals and Start Your Own Business And Avoid Bankruptcy stuff, but the winner of the 2001 Commonwealth writers' prize for best first book. The one by the ex-film critic about a film critic is amusing and on its way out the door any minute. I've only scanned Modern Tyrants and learned that Stalin, at the end, liked to cut out coloured pictures and make collages to stick on his bedroom wall.
Unofficial book crossing can be far more satisfying than a trip to the library, where sparse shelves are meant to encourage a computer search. Ordering a book without seeing the cover can mean days of built-up hopes for distraction/edification cruelly dashed upon receipt of a piece of pura crappa.
Leaving me still/again
Adrift on the slow moving raging rapids of my own situation
Through which I sought a short portage.
Does that sound like early Margaret Atwood? I hope so. I'm studying up with the poetry-learning anthology off the lawn.
I can lick booksellers' windows (as the French would say when there's something attractive on display)
is not legal
(Gotta stop reading that poetry.)
Owning books would be onerous. I'd need a shelf. Nevertheless, I attend two fall book sales.
I discover that, as in all stories, setting is very important. The first sale is in a church basement, and the books seem like they came from basements and belong there.
Everything is kind of dull and danky but depressingly fascinating. Hitler's special friend Unity Mitford also made collages, both before and after she shot herself in the head.
Late in the day, Murray McLaughlin's signed autobiography is still available. There are lots of books signed by authors who, had they known, could have dedicated them all "To the basement."
The 32nd annual Friends of the Library Trinity College sale at U of T is held in Seeley Hall, where daylight streams through soaring leaded glass panes. All the books look good, even after the dealers have been through on the opening day. It's easy to enjoy an afternoon of university immersion.
I spend a while reading biographies of people no one has ever heard of, but never consider buying one. Beautiful photographs illustrate a book called Tramp, about the last of ocean-going freighters that travel with no fixed schedule picking up work wherever they can - hence the title. It costs only $6.
Fantastic art books and arcane ephemera can be had for the price of a cheap beer. Yet I feel no urge to shop. Okay, $1 for a small Paris travel guide, circa 1979, for the maps. It fits in my pocket.
Then, outside, I begin arguing with myself. It's a book I've always wanted. But $8! You don't need it. But it's so beautiful. What if you regret not getting it? You may never see another. Treat yourself.
So I go back inside to the crafts section and pull out a thick, square hardcover. World Tartans - 480 pages of plaid. In blazing colours. Some are hideous, others surprising. The Argentina tartan, the FBI. In 1831, there were 55 tartans listed. Now there are more than 2,700 in the Scottish Register of All Publicly Known Tartans. Each bright swatch is accompanied by a paragraph of history, some as impenetrable as Gaelic.
I guess it's obvious where my literary taste lies. A bale of words is no match for a bolt of cloth.