A book wants to be read. It wants to travel, experience new things, meet new people. No book wants to be bought, half-read, and then spend six months on a nightstand with a bunch of other half-read books, before being put away at that place where books go to be forgotten, sometimes for decades: the bookcase.
Every thing has a function. The function of a book is to be read, the function of a bookcase is to be filled with books. By function, the two are mutually exclusive. A book cannot be read and fill space in a bookcase at the same time.
Books that are in the process of being read also rarely find themselves on a shelf. They lie on desks, coffee tables, dinner tables, the aforementioned night stand, toilet floors. Like pets, they travel with their owner, held in hands, pockets, backpacks. They are read in trains, buses, subway cars, at the office, in the park. They are folded, wrinkled, besmudged, creased. Until finished. After that it’s the bookcase, because we like to keep.
But what if we would not keep—it? What if we passed it on? To a friend, or an acquaintance who we think might like it. A stranger on the train. And what if they, in turn, would do the same? What would happen to the book? What kind of people would it meet, how far would it travel?
To find out, I had 40 special copies printed of my latest book, World 2.0: A History from Enlightenment to Terrorism and Beyond. Each copy has a special page, requesting readers to add their name, location and date of reception to the page, and give the book to someone else after they have finished it. In addition, readers are asked to write a short review on Amazon and include their copy number —which I put on the top right of the special page—and the location where they got the book. This way, readers can keep track of the travels of ‘their’ copy even after passing it on.
Will it work? I have no idea. But after reading this, how awesome would it be if you’d come across one of those 40 copies of World 2.0: A History in a pub on Fleet Street, or on a train departing from Grand Central Station, or when someone handed you a copy on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur overlooking Paris, in Bryant Park on a lazy sunny afternoon, or at a bar next to Piazza del Campo.
I hope that if you do, the book is filled with entries from those before you and marked with the unmistakable telltale signs of heavy reading, long journeys, and strange adventures in strange lands. Folded, wrinkled, besmudged, creased.