While walking around Via Cavour not too long ago, lost in thoughts of how I managed to rack up yet another in my long and melancholic string of unrequited loves (no one is apparently in the market for my type
lately ever), it certainly would have taken nothing short of a near miracle to drag me back to reality. Hell, I don’t even know why I was in via Cavour, it’s quite possible that I had simply been wandering for hours in circles around the metro station.
Oh, come now! I jest!
Ok, ok. In all seriousness, this sign stopped me dead in my tracks, folks. Get an eye-full:
What’s that, you say? FREE BOOKS in all caps and bold print? Free? Books? And a poster written in English, no less?
Frankly, the only response possible in this particular situation consists of the following words. You can even repeat after me, if you’d like:
“Where do I sign up?”
This, my dear readers, is what some of the more astute and literate of you might casually refer to as “the world’s library.” Oh, dear. You know my thoughts on public libraries in Rome. And so: adding more books to the glorious flow of free word circulation here in Rome? It does my heart good—oh yes, indeed it does.
The sign above indicates an “Official BookCrossing Zone.” Now, part of me finds it a wee bit curious that the sign is all in English. I mean, that’s great and all, and clearly tourists and residents who speak English can take advantage of this program. However, hmm. Let’s delve a bit into the roots of BookCrossing and how it might permeate the Italian book world as well.
The premise is this: you choose one of the books you own and are willing to put into circulation, you go to the BookCrossing website and register your book (thus giving your book its own unique tracking number), and then you leave your book either at an official BookCrossing drop-off point, or, anywhere for that matter. Those who participate are called “BookCrossers.” The idea is that when someone finds your book, they go to the BookCrossing website and leave a journal entry, and in so doing, you and others can enjoy tracing your book’s journey. The BookCrossing site says that there are currently 2,236,731 BookCrossers and 10,006,889 books travelling throughout 132 countries.
Frankly, I love things like this. I used to sponsor some wacky ideas of my own back in the day (City Swap, Sisterhood of the Traveling Books), so you know this tickled my fancy. And believe you me, my fancy hasn’t been tickled in quite some time. And when I refer to “back in the day,” you should read: before childbearing-slash-rearing. So, you know. We’re going on six years.
Hence, BookCrossing. Good fun, no? I found this sign at Enoteca Trucchi. I could try to be cutesy and ironic and say “Oh, that’s the Makeup Wine Shop” or, “Oh, that’s the Wine Shop of Tricks,” but, I won’t. I’ll just say that it’s a delightful little wine shop owned by Stefania Trucchi and Miriam Bruera, with the tagline “Passion for Wine, Feminine Style.” What’s not to love?
BookCrossing has an unofficial site in Italian here. I think that’s just fantastic. You know, Italians will tell you that “Italians don’t read!” and then they might spout off some random statistic or simply tell you, “Ma, si sa…” which is like “Oh, everyone knows that Italians don’t read.” Which I’ve always found odd, given that I see lots of Italians in bookstores and at newsstands, purchasing the latest best sellers or Italian dailies.
Istat is Italy’s national statistics institute, and the last survey they did about this topic revealed that 1 in 10 Italian homes has no books (gasp) and 63.6% of homes have 100 books or less. (However, I don’t know if quantity matters all that much in today’s day and age of Internet and digital books.) The percentage of people who claimed to have read at least one book in the last year was highest in the northeast (over 50%) while down south the percentage dips to the low 30s. Women read more than men, and the biggest readers are between the ages of 11-14. Among those who read at least one book, only 46% read up to three books in one year, and the “heavy readers,” defined as having read 12 or more books, only comprise 14.5% of the already less than 50% who read more than one book in a year.
Well. I’m no statistician. So I guess you can go around and say Italians don’t read much, if you want to. But as a point of comparison, don’t pretend I didn’t show you this US survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project citing that only 32% of the nearly 3,000 respondents age 16+ in a Gallup survey had read between 1-5 books in the previous 12 months.
European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou launched the Europe Loves Reading campaign as part of the overall EC efforts to address literacy gaps between Europe and other countries.
In the EU, 20% of young people have reading difficulties, than in comparable countries across the globe – compare with 18% in the USA, 14% in Japan, 10% in Canada and just 6% in Korea. source
But, enough stats. I just think BookCrossing is a super fundelicious idea, and if you’re a tourist to Rome, why not leave a book? And if you’re a resident, why not leave a book? And if you’re a business owner, why not consider becoming a Book Crossing point?
But don’t take my word for it. Marilyn Monroe had a personal collection of over 400 books and was certainly no slouch when it came to consuming the written word.
“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.” — Henry Miller, The Books In My Life (1969)