mamamusings: April 11, 2004

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Sunday, 11 April 2004

city envy

It’s hard to read this (extraordinary) interview of Clay Shirky and not wish, just a little, that I lived in NYC.

But I live where I live for a lot of good reasons. Because I have family here. Because I have a job that (on most days) I love. Because I grew up in western NY and it feels like home, even when it’s at its most gray and cold and depressing. (Oooo, look, I used it’s and its properly in the same sentence!) And yes, because our four-bedroom house in a nice suburban neighborhood has lilacs budding and kids laughing in the front yard today, and cost us less than $120K six years ago.

Still, the interview gave me a serious case of city envy.

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books in the wild

So clearly I’m late to the party in discovering Bookcrossing. But it’s still worth writing about, if only because of how thoroughly it has captivated both me and my kids.

I first heard about the site when Scott Heiferman, founder of Meetup, spoke about it at the Microsoft social software symposium. I was intrigued—regular meetings of people who wanted to swap books? As a bibliophile whose house is full of books I’m unlikely to read again but hate to throw away, that sounded intriguing. I took a look at the Meetup site, and even signed up for one of the meetings…and then promptly forgot about it. This morning, I got an email reminding me about the upcoming Meetup (this Tuesday at Barnes and Noble), which I ignored.

Then I took my older son to Starbucks for our weekly ritual of “private time”—which usually involves a coffee shop and a couple of books. The Starbucks closest to us has a book exchange shelf, so we grabbed a couple of books and settled in. The one my son chose was an old favorite of mine, Flowers for Algernon. It turned out to be a little too depressing for him, but before we put it down I noticed the Bookcrossing label inside the front cover. I couldn’t resist taking it home with me, just so I could see how the whole thing worked.

When I got home, I pulled out my computer and typed in the BCID (Bookcrossing ID number), and up popped the information about the book I had in my hand. It had been purchased at a used bookstore in Mississauga, Ontario. The person who bought it had sent it to an online friend in Rochester, who had then left it in our local Starbucks (“released it into the wild”). When we found it, and noted that on the site, it was then listed as “caught.”

The boys were fascinated by the fact that we could find out where that exact book had come from. They were even more excited by the idea that we could tag our unwanted books, “release them,” and then (hopefully) track them as they made their way to new homes.

The timing is perfect, since we’re in the midst of a “clean sweep” operation here—going from a study, a guest room, and a shared room for the boys to separate rooms for each of them, and the study/guest room consolidated into the room that used to be theirs. It’s been a great catalyst for cleaning up and cleaning out some of our possessions, and a lot of those are books that are long overdue for new homes and new readers.

So if you find a wild book with a BCID tag in it, do the right thing—go online and record it on the site, so that my kids (or others like us) will know what happened to their formerly beloved books. And think about releasing some of your own—it’s easy enough to print labels and affix them to the books. You can register each book individually (they make it easy; enter the ISBN number and they attempt to retrieve not only the bibliographic info but also the cover art), or, if you have a lot of books, you can print pre-numbered labels and let the book recipients fill in the info when they get the book.

Oh…and if you’re here in Rochester, come say hi on Tuesday at the Bookcrossing Meetup. I’ll be there, probably with my 9yo in tow.

Posted at 9:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (1)
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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna