A month or so back, I was taking my early coffee in a window seat of a cafe in Glebe, Sydney's inner-west district of of New Age businesses and health-food stores. I was gazing with that precaffienated stupor in which everything in the field of vision seems equally important, when something jumped at me from a little way down the counter: a slim hardcover volume, Seamus Heaney's District and Circle. Loitering in the pose of an abandoned newspaper, it fairly purred with intention.
As a public transport expert haunted by a literary past, I'm expected to notice public transport literature. The title poem is about a ride on the London Underground.
Another level down, the platform thronged.
I re-entered the safety of numbers,
A crowd half straggle-ravelled and half strung
Like a human chain, the pushy newcomers
Jostling and purling underneath the vault,
On their marks to be first through the doors,
Street-loud, then succumbing to herd-quiet ...
Heaney is not exactly to my taste, but I had to admire the eye that could see the Underground as a landscape, and thus see the strap hanging from the ceiling as a "roof-wort".
The real message, though, was written carefully in longhand inside the front cover:
This book is registered at bookcrossing.com/597-4079837. Please visit to say that it's found a good home. Enjoy and pass on. [Signature illegible] BCID 597-4079837.
Bookcrossing.com turns out to be a fine and simple idea. Anyone who has a book that they liked but don't want to keep is encouraged to register it at the site, write a note in the front, such as the one above, with the "Book Crossing ID," then leave it somewhere where others will find it. The satisfaction, presumably, is that you can go back to the site and trace the movements of a book that you left, and the impressions that it made.
A simple idea, yet it gave this slim volume of poems a charge of consequence. Travelling, I kept finding it in my luggage, and placing it in hotel rooms like a thing that needed my immediate attention.
Finally, tomorrow, I will part with it, probably in some cafe in San Francisco. The site tells me it began its journey in its native London, so it will now have gone almost 3/4 of the way around the world.
In a world where so many quotidian items have been sent to China as parts and returned reassembled, it seems almost quaint to take such an interest in the voyages of a book. But the reader of a great book often wants to share the experience. Some bookcrossing fans buy spare copies of a book they've loved to "release into the wild," and enjoy feeling their influence when someone "catches" it, reads it, and logs in.