New homes for old books

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Among the questions frequently asked by avid readers: what to do with those books that are taking up shelf space but probably won't be read again – and whether to lug home the paperback books they read while on a trip?

Oh sure, you can pile the books in boxes and haul them to the next Friends of the Library sale. And some of us leave paperbacks on plane seats, in hopes that another bored traveler will enjoy our reading material. But I've always wondered if they're just tossed into the trash by the cleaners.

Now there's an alternative method for bibliophiles to freely share books, one that has the potential to turn the whole world into a library, says Ron Hornbaker, the founder of BookCrossing.com.

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His idea: Randomly leave books in public, clearly marked as giveaways. Then – to add to the fun – find out who picked them up and what they thought about your choice of literature. How to do that? Give each volume an ID and register it on the BookCrossing website so that whoever finds the book can leave a message.

So far, more than 7,000 people have "released" (as members call it) almost 18,000 books, and both numbers are growing daily.

Readers are leaving books in conference rooms, on tables in coffeehouses and restaurants, in dentists' waiting rooms, on subways, and even on shelves in bookstores.

A copy of John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas" was given away in Maryland, traveled to New Hampshire, and has now been enjoyed by two readers in Georgia.

Hmmm. It's spring. I think I'll "read and release" (as Hornbaker puts it) a garden book, to see if it just might take root among some budding green thumbs.

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