Need a little inspiration for your “wild” release of Alice Bliss? Read on …

My best release

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My best release
Image credit – The Canberra Times

According to my stats, I’ve released 1691 books in the wild. The true figure is a more than that – I’ve released a lot without making notes. Nevertheless, I’ve set many books free in my time, and I’ve had an amazing amount of fun doing it.The book I threw into Lake Burley Griffin at midnight thatwashed up in Borneo. The one I sealed into two ziploc bags and set free over Niagara Falls. The one eaten by seagulls in Akaroa Harbour that was rescued by a yachtie. The book I left in the Mojave at a place I called “MOFN“.

But the book release that paid off in a most surprising and gratifying fashion was a tiny little Penguin minibook given to me by the awesome Jenny from Melbourne.

Jenny is a member of the Lions Club, and has more combined energy and enthusiasm than any two people I know. She sets up OBCZs, stickers books to within a millimetre of their lives, tirelessly corresponds, lives for reading… She’s a darling.

She’d heard, in early 2010, that my wife and I were heading off to the BookCrossing Anniversary Convention in Amsterdam, and wanted to send a few books along. Now, I know Jenny of old, and she has a big heart, and big books to match. We BookCrossers always travel with a few books, but they do weigh up in these days of strict baggage limits, and after the first hundred or so there’s not much room left for stuff like undies and toothbrush. I’m travelling with my wife, remember, and her standards are higher than mine. So I told Jenny, that’s fine, so long as they are light reading type books.

Sure enough, a few days later, a big envelope full of paperbacks arrived, and Jenny, who is a thoughtful lass, included a few itty-bitty books, about a tenth the size and weight of a regular paperback. Put out by Penguin, they have some really good classic reading. One book was about James Boswell meeting Dr. Johnson, surely one of the happiest encounters in English literature.

Philosopher's Walk

I packed my bags full of books – and underwear – and headed off. First stop on our convoluted journey to Amsterdam was Kyoto, where we had a delightful time as the cherry blossoms fell into the brook beside the Philosopher’s Walk, the bamboo forest was serene, the Imperial Palace majestic, and each meal a delicious guessing game.

We ate our final hotel breakfast buffet surprise – just what is that grey sludge, why does it smell so wonderful, and how do we eat it with chopsticks? – and boarded the airport train at the station just across the street. Passing through Osaka – a city of jaw-dropping ugliness – we arrived at Kansai International Airport for the onward flight to Istanbul via Helsinki. (Why, yes, I planned the itinerary, why do you ask?)

Here we were upgraded to Finnair Business Class, which was super-nice, and ushered into the lounge they share with United.

Now, I’m no stranger to airport lounges, and while they look like good places to release a book, they usually have fastidious staff bustling about keeping things tidy. Well, in Japan they do. Not sure about Heathrow.

We sat down by a window, drank some coffee, sampled the refreshments, including some marvellous green bean cakes, and waited for our flight, clucking happily over the rare-as-hens-teeth upgrade.

As it happened, I had one of Jenny’s little books with me – the Boswell-meets-Johnson one – and I thumbed through it as I waited, enjoying Boswell’s description of the man who would become his life’s work. Our flight was called, and I looked around for a spot to leave the book. I knew that as soon as I rose, someone would be along to clear the table, and they would surely find the book, possibly running after meto the confusion and embarrassment of all. At the very least, the book would languish in some lost property drawer.

But, in the window frame, there was a little space hidden from immediate view. One had to be seated – as I was – to spot it. If I left the book there, it would likely remain out of the clutches of the lounge staff until the cleaners went through around midnight, and in the meantime there was every chance that Jenny’s little book would find a new owner, off to Paris or New York or Tahiti. Somewhere exotic. Somewhere a long way from home.

And then off we went. Fantastic flight to Helsinki over the icecap, sunny European farmland to Istanbul which was as splendid as ever, and then that bloody volcano as we tried to check in for Amsterdam via Heathrow. My heart dropped at the thought of trying for a train or a one-way hire car, but luckily my elite status got us on a Turkish Airlines flight directly into Schipol, so we actually got to Amsterdam quicker and with more interesting food than we would have had on British Airlines. We were pretty much the last flight in for a week or so, and our onward plans were chaos, but that’s another story.

Image credit – The Canberra Times

We got home eventually, via Luxembourg and Flossmoor, and a few weeks later, I was sitting down over brekkie, enjoying morning coffee and the weekend paper feast, when I turned a page and there was Doctor Johnson looking out at me from the pages of The Canberra Times!The very same book that Jenny had bought from an op-shop in Melbourne, sent to me to release in Amsterdam and I’d left in Kansai. It had been found by a Canberra journalist, who had been charmed by the concept of BookCrossing and turned it into a feature article under the title “Love me and leave me”.

My jaw dropped to ankle level. I’ve had some wonderful journal entries, but this was totally unexpected. My sly bookdrop had been shared with my home city over their weekend morning coffee!

I read along with him, enjoying the discovery,

Here I am in the Asuka lounge at Kansai airport near Osaka waiting for my return flight to Australia. I’ve tried the weird green cake (one bite only, yuk) and the French red and white wines (one sip of each was enough) and have settled for the soap-like cheese with a cracker. … I spy a little book hiding in a small nook, propped up at the window near where I’m sitting. And what a little hand-size treasure it turns out to be.

…the research into,

It seems the basic idea is to extend the readership of books that languish on your shelves by releasing them to a wider world. You can do it in a more controlled way by posting or giving the book and website information to friends, or just by leaving the book in a public place where, hopefully, somebody picks it up, becomes an active part of the adventure and joins what is basically an online book club.

…the reading,

So I’ve read Meeting Dr Johnson — all 51 (tiny) pages — once at Kansai and once on the plane. Both readings were quite satisfying, although in a slightly weird sort of way. When all is said and done, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell were a pompous pair — pontificating on so many subjects and laying down the law for a civilised society. Rules Britannia, of course.

…and the continuing adventure,

I’ve let the book loose again. Recently I did a controlled release of it and sent it to a close family friend in Seattle. So it has escaped Canberra once more to continue its global journey, spreading the good doctor’s words, wit and wisdom. My friend has Dutch connections; I wonder if it’ll get back to the Netherlands?

Not yet, according to the book’s page on Maybe the Seattle friend released the book at Sea-Tac!

But what a fantastic story. This is BookCrossing at its most magical. Sharing books, sharing stories. Strangers united by chance, the thoughts that once passed through Boswell’s eighteenth-century mind echoing in an airline lounge in Japan.

— Skyring



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