Why is Emma Watson dropping books on London subways?

It's part of a collaboration between Emma Watson's feminist book group, Our Shared Shelf, and Books on the Underground, which leaves books all over the London subway system for riders to enjoy.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City last month.

By escalators, in cubbyholes, and perhaps even in some cupboards under the stairs, books are hiding in plain sight – and waiting for London subway riders to pick them up. 

Emma Watson, the actress perhaps best known for her role as Hermione in the “Harry Potter” series, has been leaving copies of Maya Angelou’s memoir "Mom & Me & Mom" all over the London Underground. There are 100 copies of the book in different corners of the subway, each with a note about the project from Ms. Watson herself.

It’s part of a collaboration between Our Shared Shelf – a feminist book club founded by Watson in January – and Books on the Underground, an organization that leaves books all over the subway system to be shared by riders.

“The campaign with Emma Watson is perfect as it promotes her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf, and also reminds people to look around for a hidden book when they’re on the tube!” Cordelia Oxley, director of Books on the Underground, told the Daily Mail.

The UN Women Goodwill Ambassador since July 2014, Watson is a vocal advocate for women’s rights. She works with the UN’s HeForShe campaign for gender equality and has also been involved in humanitarian efforts in Bangladesh and Zambia. And last month, her Twitter post about the US presidential election made headlines.

Our Shared Shelf, Watson wrote on the book group’s Goodreads page, is an opportunity for her to share what she is learning about feminism and get others involved, too. The project has drawn support from soccer star Abby Wambach, actress Sophia Bush, and author and activist Gloria Steinem, among others.

Every two months, the group reads and discusses a new book about feminism. Ms. Angelou’s memoir, her final work, is the selection for November and December. It discusses Angelou’s relationship with her mother, and reveals the role that her mother – who abandoned Angelou as a child – had in her “evolution as a black woman, but also in her feminist perspective, her independence and self-awareness,” Watson wrote when announcing the selection. 

By leaving copies of the book around the London subway, Watson may hope to engage more people with the project. The note she tucked inside each copy asks readers to share their thoughts about it on Our Shared Shelf’s Goodreads page.

And readers are already getting involved. Books on the Underground caught one subway rider on camera as she picked up a book left near an escalator. An Instagram user named Jenny posted a photo of the book and note captioned “When @emmawatson makes your day with secret books on the tube.”

It’s not just celebrities who can leave books around the subway for others to enjoy, either. Books on the Underground encourages Underground riders from all walks of life to share the books they love. You can even share pictures of yourself reading a new find – or leaving one for someone else – on the group’s Twitter page.

“They’re there to be taken, read, shared, and most importantly, enjoyed,” the group’s Facebook page explains.

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