Book Tourist

Laura Maylene Walter
October 12, 2017
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You don’t have to travel to exotic locations to be a proper book tourist. Take my recent visit to a used bookstore in Sherman, New York, or the rack of paperbacks I browsed years ago in the tiny Amtrak station in Minot, North Dakota—book adventures really do abound everywhere.

Just last week, while stopping overnight in Scranton, Pennsylvania on my way to a wedding in the Endless Mountains, I stumbled upon two new book-related experiences. First, I visited what is apparently the nation’s only bookstore-library hybrid, the Library Express Bookstore located in the Steamtown Mall in downtown Scranton.

I like to think of this place as the literary version of a mullet (and I mean that as a compliment): bookstore in the front, library in the back. If you’re a card-carrying Scranton Public Library patron, you can check out library books, attend library programs, and use the free public computers. Or, if you’re an outsider who wandered in from the mall, you might purchase a book instead, all while knowing the proceeds will go toward supporting the library.

But sometimes, books come to us rather than the other way around. Also in Scranton, I was busy browsing the bookshelf at the Northern Light Espresso Bar & Café (I was paging through Write More Good: An Absolutely Phony Guide, which looks pretty entertaining) while my husband found something else: a book traveling via BookCrossing.

If you haven’t heard of BookCrossing, the concept is simple: register a book through the site, attach a label with an assigned number, set the book free in the wild, and then track it to see where it ends up. The book my husband found hadn’t traveled very far, but I have higher hopes for this back issue of the Kenyon Review (Sept/Oct. 2015), which I recently registered via BookCrossing and am setting free in a Little Free Library somewhere in Cleveland. I chose this issue in part because it happens to include poems by some writers in the northeast Ohio area, including Phil Metres, Dave Lucas, and Kazim Ali. But more than that, I want to see how far this single copy of KR might travel.

The BookCrossing website includes some community-focused components that allow users to search for one another, chat in forums, and even meet up at special conventions. While I can honestly say I’ll never get that involved with the site, even so, this might be a good way to share books from time to time. Maybe BookCrossing will encourage me to buy and then give away a second copy of a friend’s new book. Or if I’m having a bad day, I might release something fun and unusual that could delight a stranger. Our world can always use a little more literary love, right? (If Emma Watson can do it with The Handmaid’s Tale in Paris, I can do it on a smaller scale this way.)

So if you’re in the Cleveland area, be on the lookout for this back issue of Kenyon Review. If you find it, do me a favor and take it on your next trip out of town before setting it free again—but don’t forget to read it first.

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