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BookCrossing in the City of Gold
by mrbaggins1
July 16, 2009
It all started by accident, or rather due to serendipity, this karma of books.

I’m not a great newspaper reader and will only occasionally glance through a paper as I do most of my reading online. A year ago an article in “The Weekender”, a local weekly paper, about the Cape Town Book Fair caught my interest. Being in the educational publishing trade, I’ve been to the fair before and I wanted to find out what was happening at the 2008 event. BookCrossing was mentioned in the article and I was intrigued with the idea of releasing books into the wild and the concept of a worldwide community of readers who exchange books for the sheer fun and goodwill of sharing a common interest.

I logged on to the site, created a username, and that was the beginning of a wonderful journey. What fun I had the past twelve months as BookCrossing is ideally suited to my lifestyle and reading habits. I am a solitary creature who is amazed by the power of the Internet and the impact it has on human interaction in a global village. I found a medium where I could in a meaningful way communicate with thousands of people about one of my great and lifelong passions.

I’ve always been a constant reader but haven’t been to a library since my childhood. I had fallen into the habit of buying new or secondhand books. I am also to a large extent an impulsive reader who will buy a book on a whim, I’ll read a review, a cover will catch my eye, or a book will mug me in passing. Oh I have my favourites -- Stephen King, Jeanette Winterson, Iain Banks, Paul Theroux and Isabel Allende amongst others. In the main I believe that books find me rather than the other way round, and over the years I’ve collected a lot of books - on shelves, boxes, drawers. I used to trade some at the secondhand bookshops -- those that weren’t keepers and was always disgusted at how little I got for them.

When I stumbled into the world of wild releasing, bookrays, bookrings and random acts of BookCrossing kindness (RABCK) I realized that I’d rather release my surplus books into the wild than selling them for next to nothing. I also did the maths and found out that international postage from South Africa is more or less the same as the cost of buying a paperback.

Once I started actively participating in the forums I found a treasure trove of new books and authors and started receiving packages through the mail from the most unlikely places at a dizzy rate. I get surprise parcels on a regular basis and can hardly keep up with what others so kindly share.

I’ve released nearly 220 books the last year and found 60, all through the forums as controlled releases, as there are for some unknown reason only a handful of active BookCrossers in South Africa. I know many readers and have shown them the site, told them about the concept and tried to convert them with no success. I am, at the moment, the only active BookCrosser in the whole of Johannesburg and most of my wild releases are silent travellers.

I have long since realized that these silent travellers are in the true spirit of BookCrossing - giving someone else the pleasure of finding a free book in the most unexpected place. The rare surprise of having a wild release logged makes it worthwhile, but it's a bonus. In the past week one of my first wild books, Snow Falling on Cedars, which I released in August 2008, was logged for the first time. One of the most interesting posts was also on an early release:

“The idea of a freely circulating book in a city of crime and greed is very refreshing! Thank you for this amazing project. Will forward the book to a friend in the city”

That was in October last year and Tom Wolfe’s Kandy-Colored Tangerine – Flake has dropped out of sight. I can live with that.

The funny thing is that, the more books I release the more I receive!

It’s almost Biblical, a cast-your-bread-on-the-water serendipitous thing. My “Books to Read” pile has grown out of all proportion. Before joining BookCrossing, I always had about five in reserve, at the moment I have nearly fifty! Where I used to read an average of a book a week in the past my reading rate has almost doubled (43 in the first six months of 2009).

Thank you to all the worldwide friends I’ve made, the wonderful books, cards and gifts you shared. You have enriched my life and I hope I have brought some joy into yours.

I’m sure more people in Johannesburg will become active as time goes by and I’m really looking forward to one day finding my first wild release somewhere in this great city.

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