I recently joined BookCrossing.com after I found a copy of the "The Perfect Storm," by Sebastian Junger, on a bookshelf at one of those cozy new McDonald's. A note, taped to the inside cover, revealed the book's connection to this online community: "When you are finished, please pass this book along to someone else who will enjoy it."
Here's how BookCrossing.com works: You leave a book in a public place and wait for someone to find it. That person registers their discovery online and the book is tracked as it travels from person to person.
At last, I thought, an easy way to rid our sagging bookshelves of my husband's books and gain some space for my own! I would scour Chicago's suburbs for appropriate drop-off sites and, little by little, chip away at my spouse's book collection.
I marveled at my husband's Greek Bible when we first dated and he read aloud in the original Greek. It was so romantic. But now after more than a decade of marriage, it just looks, well, big. It would be the first to go. Aristotle's "Theory of Poetry and Fine Art" and Lucretius's "De Rerum Natura" – those guys would be next.
But then I hesitated. What if someone shopping at Victoria's Secret stumbled upon my spouse's copy of Augustine's "Confessions?" Would the 4th-century bishop end up among some lace, misunderstood? And Cicero at the outlet mall sounded more like an ancient reality show than an appropriate site for a great orator.
Yet why should I care where Nietzsche ended up? So what if some guy taking inventory found my husband's personal copy of "Thus Sprach Zarathustra" in the toothpaste aisle at Walgreens? The whole point was to get rid of books like that – no matter what the cost.
But then again, if a mom looking for Tide at Costco saw the personal notes my lifelong partner had scribbled in the margins of Kafka's weird story about that big bug, what would she think?
Still, I persevered. I scouted malls and fast-food restaurants, my little red Honda heavy with the thoughts of all those great men. I hauled bags of books up and down escalators. I ruminated over drop-off sites for translations of the Iliad.
Then I thought about my Romantic poets, lying in a heap on our library floor, waiting for shelf space. If the tables were turned, could I really dump Byron and Keats at Burger King? On the other hand, if I didn't send his Socrates to Sears soon, my poets would never get their time on the shelf.