BookCrossing Crosses Borders
During Canada Jaunt, BC Thrills a Child and Intrigues a Customs Agentby authorauthor
September 23, 2009
I was driving to Montreal for the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention. I knew it would be a long drive from my home in Virginia. But the convention would be a great place for talking about science fiction and fantasy books, as well as for networking with other book authors, with editors and agents, and with fans. Of course, it would also be a great place for releasing books.
My favorite catch was a Harry Potter book. I released it in the corridor outside a kids' session, a Harry Potter trivia quiz that was to start within the hour. When I walked in to help with the quiz, I noted that one of the session leaders was carrying my book. During the quiz, a shy 11-year-old named Joshua caught my eye. He admitted in a quiet voice that he'd read only two Harry Potter books. Clearly, he felt outclassed by the competition, especially two girls about his age who knew every book intimately and who constantly raised their hands, Hermione-like, before calling out the answers. The moderator tried hard to ease Joshua into the conversation, asking questions she knew he'd be able to answer. But I could see that he felt like a squib in a roomful of whiz-kid wizards.
At the end, the session leader gave each of the other children a prize. Then she turned to Joshua and said she had a special gift just for him. She handed him my released book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, one of the ones he hadn't read. His face lit up as he hugged the paperback to his chest. He couldn’t stop grinning. And I'd never felt happier about having releasing a book.
After the convention, I reluctantly loaded up the car to head home. At the Canadian/U.S. border, I pulled into Customs and waited to be questioned about every purchase I'd made in Canada and every item stuffed in my packed car. But the Customs Agent surprised me. “What does your bumper sticker mean?” he asked. “‘I Brake For Wild Books’?”
I explained the BookCrossing concept. Intrigued, he kept quizzing me on the details of how it all works. After several minutes, he remembered he was supposed to be determining whether I was a terrorist attempting to transport contraband into the country. So he quickly asked me where I was heading and whether I was carrying weapons or agricultural products. Then he waved me through. Without that bumper sticker, Customs could have been a lot more painful.