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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

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I love books. I love to browse books, choose books, purchase books, collect books – and, of course, read books!

If, like me, you are a bibliophile, you will know well the happiness a book can bring: finding a hidden treasure in a second-hand bookstore, eagerly buying your favourite author’s new novel on publication day, simply holding a book in your hands and using it as a magic portal into a story world. For me, though, the greatest happiness of all is not to be found in holding a book in my own hands, but in passing one to another.

Giving books, quite simply, is a beautiful act. Soul-stirring. Life-affirming. Joy-creating.

Many people, myself included, enjoy choosing books to give as presents for friends and loved ones for occasions like birthdays and Christmas. A book is a thoughtful gift, after all, and choosing the right one means the giver has the perfect excuse to spend an hour (or more!) in a bookstore.

But increasingly book-lovers are going a step further, and finding ever more fun and creative ways to gift books.

What’s the best gift of all? A surprise gift. Imagine walking through a park on a sunny summer’s day, when your eye catches something colourful amid the green leaves of a tree. You go up on tiptoes to investigate and discover a book – a novel, wrapped up in green ribbon. Intrigued, you reach up and take down the book. On the cover you see a little sticker on which is a picture of a book with wings and, beneath, a gentle instruction: ‘Take this book, read it, and leave it for the next person to enjoy.’ You’ve just received a gift from a Book Fairy.

The Book Fairies (http://ibelieveinbookfairies.com/) are a group of book-lovers all over the world who leave books for people to find. Currently, there are 5,000 people sharing copies across 100 countries. Anyone can be a book fairy; all you do is pop on an instruction sticker (available inexpensively and in various languages from the Book Fairies website) and then leave the book someplace it will be discovered. Many Book Fairies post Instagram pictures of their gifts in situ, as a clue.

The Book Fairies grew out of Books on the Underground (http://booksontheunderground.co.uk/), which works in the same way: each week, around 150 free books are left on the London Underground system, in stations and on trains, for travellers to enjoy. (New York has its own version, Books on the Subway: https://www.booksonthesubway.com/.)

A key part of the concept is that whoever receives a free book eventually passes this book on to another reader, so theoretically these free books should remain in constant circulation, turning public spaces into libraries. The exchange principle draws on the ever-popular Little Free Libraries scheme (https://littlefreelibrary.org/), which originated in the US, in which readers are able to access micro-libraries in all sorts of places, donating a book in exchange for taking one.

What all of these programmes have in common is that they are run by volunteers, simply for the love of books. They want to promote reading and to widen access to books, especially important books; last week, for example, actress Emma Watson donned her Book Fairy hat and hid 100 copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in Paris.

Most of all, though, book givers want to bring a ray of sunshine to a fellow reader’s day. Giving a book – even to a stranger you will never meet – has a fabulous feel-good factor, because of the goodwill behind the gesture. As the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote: ‘A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.’

  • TREKnRay

    I never thought of finding a book that catches your eye as similar to the trip I took when I was nineteen years old. Two young women who were very good friends of mine went with me on t two hundred mile trip to visit my parents for a weekend. We drove through forests with scenic areas that caused us to take nine hours to make a four hour trip. We stopped every place I knew they would enjoy.

    Several of the Starbucks in Virginia Beach have book exchanges. I try to find something for my bed ridden wife to read. She loves to read Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum books. I just found number one in the series for her to read again last week.

    I had a friend aboard ship once who had a large collection of romance books. We would each buy books in port and while at sea trade with each other. We even started purchasing books together so we were assured of something to read at sea. I would read about 300 books a year while I was going to sea for six to eight months a year. Without her I might have been out of luck.

    • hannahfielding

      Thank you for sharing. There is something so wonderful about the discovery of books!

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