shadow a form of literary hide-and-seek

I’ve been geocaching with my boy, using a GPS to find hidden objects whose coordinates are logged on a central website. The game is a double pleasure – people love creating caches, and people love finding the ones others have hidden – and it kept reminding me of a form of literary hide-and-seek I used to enjoy,

Bookcrossing involves “releasing” books into the community, each marked with an individual I.D. number, and waiting for them to be found. Ideally, whoever finds a book goes to the free Bookcrossing website, notes where the book was found… and then reads it and drops it off at some other spot, noting where it’s been left, and continuing the cycle. Think of it as the book version of the traveling gnome from the movie Amelie, or the dollar bills of the “Where’s George?” website.

Bookcrossing has been around since 2001, and now boasts nearly 6 million registered volumes. I first wrote about it in 2003, and talked then to one woman whose book (a copy of “Message In A Bottle” by Nicholas Sparks) had traveled the world, from Washington state to Seoul to Tokyo. I just looked up the same volume, one out of nearly 1,000 copies of that book registered on
Bookcrossing, and was sad to see that the Tokyo stop I mentioned six years ago  was the spot where its public trail ended. If anyone has picked it up since, they haven’t bothered to share the data.

That’s what ultimately frustrated me when I first played around with Bookcrossing. I had set out what seemed like enticing books in promising locations – one of my favorites, Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale,” in a hospital waiting room, a copy of Murray Morgan’s classic Seattle history “Skid Road” at the city’s famed Pike Place Market, and so on – but it was rare to tally even one follow-up note. It’s not unknown for a Bookcrossing title to resurface months or years after its last log entry, but I’ve been waiting a long time.

This weekend, though, the fun of geocaching nudged me into the game again. I left a copy of the 2009 Zagat Seattle restaurant guide at a natural foods store, and I’ve prepared other books to drop off around the region. Want to watch their progress, if there is any? My books are registered at And if you want to find “traveling” books in your own town, search the site to find out where to look – or even to register your own, and enjoy the fun of the hiding as much as the seek.

Rebekah Denn writes at




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