Bookcrossing scheme puts paperbacks into the 'wild'

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The Independent Culture

If you are passing through London's Waterloo station next week and notice an abandoned book with a label saying "Read me", don't dismiss it as a hoax.

If you are passing through London's Waterloo station next week and notice an abandoned book with a label saying "Read me", don't dismiss it as a hoax.

For the lonely paperback will probably be an example of bookcrossing, a reading movement reminiscent of Amsterdam's hippy, white bicycle scheme of the 1960s, in which cycles were scattered across the city for anyone's use.

Under the scheme, which began in America, people leave books in public places to be picked up and read by others who in turn pass them on, with all readers logging on to a website that tracks progress of the books. According to bookcrossing.com there were some 3,000 books "in the wild" in the UK yesterday waiting to be claimed, including several on trains in and out of London.

Rob Hornbaker, an American, came up with the idea of bookcrossing in 2001, setting up the website, which now has 250,000 members across the world. The movement was launched in the UK two years ago and, although it is popular, it has remained a minority pastime in this country.

However, the backing of a new BBC1 show, Page Turners, could change all that. On Wednesday, Jeremy Vine, the show's host, will launch the BBC's bookcrossing campaign at Waterloo, chosen because people passing through the station are travelling to a wide range of destinations across the country.

He will hand out about 100 copies of the 24 titles featured on the show, ranging from Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go to Nigella Lawson's Feast. The crime writer Ian Rankin, whose novel Fleshmarket Close is also on the list, will simultaneously hand out books in Edinburgh. The programmes will attempt to track the progress of the books.

The term "bookcrossing" has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary and according to the bookcrossing.com website, there were 2,847 books released in Britain in the past 30 days. But Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller and a member of the judging panel that selected the books featured on Page Turners, believes the UK still has some way to go to catch up with America. "I don't think bookcrossing has taken off as well as it has in the US. There's probably only thousands actively doing it. It's something that tries to tap into the existing reading group and word-of-mouth phenomenon that has grown, particularly in the last few years," he said.

Amanda De Ryk, executive producer of Page Turners, said: "We had never heard of it until we started researching the programme. It's a fantastic idea. It's slightly anarchic. You might find a book in Starbucks or left on a park bench and it's like a gift from the Cosmos."

The range of books known to be "in the wild" in the UK range from didactic to pulp fiction. On Thursday, passengers on the 9am London to Nottingham train might have spotted a volume entitled Difficult Questions about Videogames. The book, rated nine out of 10 by a user named videokid, was "travelling" according to the website. There were 41 books in Newcastle upon Tyne for readers to pick up.

Those passengers who were travelling through Haymarket Metro station could take home Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the Power of Persuasion by Elizabeth Massie, while people in the departure lounge at Newcastle airport were offered the Marriage Codes by Hewie Edward Dalrymple if they knew where to look out for it.

'I read 200 books last year. It's found me books I would never have seen'

Zoe Ashton-Worsnop, a 29-year-old mother from Hull, started bookcrossing two years ago.

"I was in hospital just before I gave birth to my son and I was really bored. I used to read a lot, but I hadn't read for a long time. A friend asked if I had heard of bookcrossing.

After I'd had my son, my friend gave me a book with a label on it. Now I get release alerts when there is a book in my area. My friend has set up a Yahoo bookcrossing group and people use the message system to ask one another if they have a particular book on their shelf. I have gone from reading two books a year to well over 200 last year. It's helped me find books I would never have read and introduced me to authors including Margaret Atwood and Joanne Harris.

"I do 'wild-release' books but in Hull it's not really taken off yet. I've been bookcrossing for two years and I've never found a book.

"I have wild-released lots and it's really exciting - one has now ended up in Portugal. I hope there will be more people doing it. At the moment, people look at you as though you're crazy if you leave a book. My sister has been chased down a train by someone wanting to give it back."

BRITAIN'S MOST CROSSED BOOKS

1 The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown 719

2 The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold 707

3 Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown 626

4 A Painted House, by John Grisham 599

5 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells 542

6 The Firm, by John Grisham 529

7 The Pelican Brief, by John Grisham 529

8 A Time to Kill, by John Grisham 513

9 The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd 487

10 Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton 477

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