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Bookcrossing article in De Gelderlander 6 September 2002

BookCrossing has made its appearance in Arnhem and Nijmegen as well. Give your books a second life; leave behind what you don't read anymore.

By HANS GULPEN

ARNHEM

You go to the cafe, just for a small refreshment. Thirty minutes later you leave the place carrying the collected works of Franz Kafka. Eight tomes in a shining black box. In German, but free of charge. It can happen to you any working day in Arnhem. And it happened, last Wednesday.

On the black boxed set there was a taped note saying, in Dutch and in English: "This book was left behind here for you to take along. Read, enjoy and pass it on." You don't think twice about that. Kafka himself, fond of absurd events, would have thought it an interesting experience.

Generous provider of the collected works turns out to be Frans Goddijn, one time fellow publicist of the legendary publisher, bibliophile and essayist Johan Polak. Today, Goddijn publishes frequently in equine magazine Bit and he dabbles in books after his office job.

He moved to a smaller place recently and he decided that it was time to let go of some books. "Some of them had been in storage for three years. And I reckon if you can miss them three years, you can do without them altogether", he offers as explanation for his generosity.

Every week Goddijn carries at least one heavy shopping bag full of books across the city. He leaves behind works by Nabokov in the public library, Pessoa poems in a bar, Olivier B. Bommel comics in the cafeteria of the Arts Academy and an Oscar Wilde biography in the lobby of a hotel.

This way he has by now "released in the wild" about 80 books, and more will follow. Giving away books is a more or less clandestine occupation. A reverse type of stealing. Because you have to use stealth. Just recently Goddijn was deftly sneaking his way out after he'd left two heavy tomes of the historic masterpiece Testators of our civilization by Jan and Annie Romein on the reading table of subversives-cafe De Wacht. Out on the street, he was called back by the worried innkeeper. Hadn't he forgotten something? It really meant the action had failed.

We found out it was Frans Goddijn who abandoned Kafka's Gesammelte Werke from notes in every one of the eight books. It lists an internet-address www.bookcrossing.com and a different code number for every book. Go to the web site, log yourself in and enter the number, then you find the identity of the provider.

BookCrossing is an American invention. In a nutshell: supply a book with its label and unique code, just leave it behind someplace and wait to see if you get any response from the finder. On the BookCrossing web site you can trace precisely where in the world books have been released in the wild and who has found and taken them. The latter only if the finder sends in a report of course. The best would be if the finder actually reads the book and tells how he liked it on the book's web site.

The BookCrossing phenomenon has meanwhile crossed the ocean to Europe and found its first, albeit mostly hesitant, participants in Gelderland. The site shows transactions in Arnhem, Nijmegen, Zevenaar and Nunspeet, where givers and takers have taken on screen names like C-CIXZ, FransG, obzevenaar, Errieperrie, bambolottina and, since Wednesday, GeleRijder (your reporter).

What's so nice about it? FransG: "You can compare it to the classic message in a bottle, or the helium balloon with an address card. Chances of anyone responding are slim to none, but if you get a reply, that's great fun."

Wouldn't it have made more sense to take his books to an antiquarian, we remonstrate. Then at least he would have got something for them. Goddijn: "I don't release very special or valuable books. If you take this stuff to an antiquarian, he looks sad, sighs heavily and offers you maybe 50 cents. Now you get 75 cents worth of fun. So you gain a quarter!"

(Dutch original)