On my recent trip to Italy, I stayed at Hostel Pisa. Although the hostel had perfectly adequate facilities and friendly, helpful staff, there was one thing that was noticeable for it’s absence. Apart from a few books left at reception, which I don’t think there were two of in the same language, there was no book swap.
One of the things I like most about staying at a hotel or hostel is discovering the book swap. It’s such a simple idea, but one that works so well. When you’re done with your book, you simply leave it for someone else and select another one. Although I didn’t actually require the services of the book swap on this trip (before I left Innsbruck my brother had loaded me up with enough English books to last me a year) I still missed sifting through the worn books to find hidden treasures.
I always like to imagine the journey that the books themselves must have been on, passing from traveller to traveller and book swap to book swap as they make their way around the planet. Sometimes you find clues left in the books as to where they might have been. Once, whilst travelling on the east coast of America, I picked up a book with a bookmark from San Francisco in it. Had this book come from San Francisco? Was it simply the bookmark that had made the long journey across the country? Who knows?
The more I thought about the books and their journeys, the more the idea fascinated me. I could pick up a book that I’d already handled five years ago in another country and not know it. That’s why I now leave my mark in every book I read (that’s not a library book, owned by someone or otherwise disrespectful to write in of course). In the bottom corner of the inside back cover, I leave my little juggler-man symbol:
I’ve also started to write where I was when I finished the book and the date. My hope is that, one day, I will pick up a book and find my mark already there. Or that other people will join in with my game and leave their own personal signatures in the back of books. Together, we could help the books to tell their travel stories.