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Ephemeral Possessions: Books

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Monday, Oct 13, 2008

Have you ever stayed in a hostel with a shelf (or more likely, a bookcase) of travel/leisure reading just there for the taking? The idea being, if you finish your book while you’re in residence, leave it behind and select something new, whether it be a Rough Guide to your next destination, some light YA fiction, or maybe even a chunky biography of some now-deceased heavyweight politician or diplomat.


Personally, I have trouble leaving my own book behind in exchange for something different, and yet I can appreciate the trade-off. Why carry around something you’ve already finished when you could lighten the load, or at least maintain it, by leaving your book for someone else to enjoy, and taking along an interesting looking cast-off?


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Oftentimes the shelves of books-for-trade have wonderful offerings. And it turns out that it’s not just thrifty hostels that tend to have a shelf or two of discarded volumes. A friend in town for a visit just told me about her experience staying at a B&B in New Brunswick, Canada, where the friendly owner insisted that if she saw anything she was interested in on the bookshelves, she take it with her. The book that caught my friend’s eye is The Mermaid of Paris (2003) by Cary Fagan, and when she moves on after her week’s visit, she’ll probably leave it with me. We’ll see if I’m able to let her select a volume from my shelves for the next leg of her journey.


What’s the best trade you’ve made while traveling? Or do you find it impossible to leave one of your own books behind?

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