The Works is holding an essay contest. They’re looking for travel bloggers to write about ‘reading on the road.’ Such an easy subject for me. I’m never without a book. Or two. Or five. Or twelve. In fact, the first thing I pack for any trip is a dozen books, most of which I’ve read. It takes up quite a bit of space in my suitcase, but that’s okay. They’re only traveling one way. I take them with me and then release them into the wild. It’s called Bookcrossing, and it is my favorite hobby.
Bookcrossing.com was designed by a man named Ron Hornbaker who had the idea to create a worldwide library. His vision was that a person might find a book at any time, anywhere, for free. You may be sipping coffee at your favorite coffee shop and suddenly stumble upon a book that someone else left there. Or you may be in a doctor’s waiting room, or sitting on a park bench, or flying on an airplane. And there it will be — a free book that someone registered on the website and left behind for others to read.
Sometimes when I travel, I try to take books that are set in the place where I’m going. Such was the case when we traveled to San Francisco. I tossed a couple of “Full House” and Amy Tan books into the bag. A book about ghosts at Alcatraz and Speak Softly, She Can Hear, which is set in the Haight district were packed beneath our clothes. My daughter got into the act, too. We started reading books set in San Francisco as soon as we decided that we’d travel there. The books whet our adventuresome appetites and helped us build the itinerary for our trip.
One of our must see destinations: Alcatraz. Not just because we wanted to see the famous “Rock” for ourselves, but because my then nine-year-old daughter read Eve Bunting’s middle-grade novel, Someone is Hiding On Alcatraz Island, about a boy named Danny who is chased around Alcatraz Island by a gang of revenge-seeking teenagers. We wanted to be shut into the prison and hear the clanking of the heavy steel doors like Eve Bunting described in her book. We wanted to imagine what it was like for the prisoners, and follow in fictional Danny’s footsteps as we raced around the island.
Our plan was simple. We’d visit Alcatraz and see how it compared to the book we’d read, and then my daughter would leave her paperback copy there for someone else to stumble upon, accidentally or on purpose.
But like most best-laid plans, it backfired.
We got to Alcatraz Island and my daughter immediately begged to turn around and go back. The book had scared her and the sun was setting. We’d made the mistake of taking the last tour of the day and she was afraid we’d be stuck on the island, just like Danny. The thought of heavy clanking doors and life behind bars scared the crap out of her. She burst into tears as soon as our audio guides began. She could not take the tour.
So I skipped the tour and stayed outside the jail with her. We watched sea gulls instead and searched for just the right place to leave the book. We finally left it on a bench with a bright “FREE BOOK” post-it on it and wondered if we’d ever hear from the book again.
Sometimes journal entries happen quickly. Other times, it takes years before a curious reader logs on and gives an update of the book’s journey. This time we were lucky. We received an email alert three weeks later that the book was now in the hands of a 9-year-old boy from Oregon who had been at Alcatraz the same night we were. His grandmother spotted the book and saw the “FREE BOOK” post-it. Curious, she picked it up, gave it to her grandson, and he journaled the find. We were thrilled. And it gave us an excuse to pull out the atlas and show my daughter how far her book had traveled so far. (Woo hoo! A geography lesson to boot!)
Besides Alcatraz, we visited other literary mentionables such as the Asian Art Museum, where we left Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning. The museum is referenced heavily in the prologue of Tan’s book and I half expected to see a plaque honoring Bibi Chen, the narrator in Amy Tan’s story.
We had to leave 11th Hour at Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is pictured right on the cover of this book by Catherine Coulter. We perched the book on a bench where groups of tourists stood and had their pictures taken with that magnificent orange structure in the background. By the time we walked halfway across the bridge and back, the book was gone. With all the foreign and US visitors wandering on the bridge, this book could end up anywhere. We can’t wait to hear of its travels.
I incorporate Bookcrossing into every trip I take. I’ve left books all over the world and am thrilled every time I get an email alerting me that another book has been caught and journaled. It’s just one more way I relive the experience and places I’ve been.
And that, my friends, is one of my On the Road reading moments.
Now I want to hear yours! I’m asked to nominate three other travel bloggers to take part in this contest. Come on, Southwest Compass, Traveling 9 to 5, The Urge to Wander, Margaret’s Miscellany, There and Back Again, Love.Antoinette, Travel Junkette, Tales of a Travel Addict, Quirky Travel Guy, and EVERYONE ELSE! Let’s hear your stories!
The judging panel will pick a winner who will then receive a £250 The Works book voucher. One of the judges is the Lifestyle Editor for http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/. There’s an opportunity to have your blog posts featured on the Huffington Post site, too.
I encourage you to check out all the rules and enter the On the Road Reading Moments Contest. Deadline is December 14th.
Check the Go Hunting page of Bookcrossing, too. Maybe some books have been released in your part of the world.