Book Challenge

The challenge…

Give a book you love to a total stranger.

The rules:

1)      You must genuinely love the book and want others to read it

2)      You must give it to a total stranger

3)      You mustn’t let on that you’ve been challenged or somehow been put up to going around giving out books, because that would spoil the act

There’s also an optional 4th rule – suggest that the recipient themselves give a book they love to a stranger.  But that’ll depend on individual circumstances.


If you happen to live in a place with a strong sense of community, full of helpful and friendly people, well done: you’ve won one of life’s lotteries.   Sadly, I don’t…

A series of events over the past few days have hammered this point home.  It started with my sister and I helping a disabled man off a train.  No real effort on our part, but he gave us a look like we were aliens, maybe even saints.  I don’t draw attention to this to be self-aggrandizing or pretend like I’m someone I’m not.  And while you could call it a random act of kindness I wouldn’t.  I call it basic human decency.

This incident played on my mind for a while.

Last night a man on the Tube gave up his seat (one marked priority for those less able to stand) for a heavily pregnant lady.  But only after he was embarrassed/terrified into it by a much larger South London-accented man with menacing tattoos.  He practically elbowed his way back into ‘his’ chair after the lady reached her stop.  Some people are just wrong ‘uns.

Of course the London Underground is notorious for its tales of petty commuters treating the place like some kind of chair-based warzone.

Between these two events, yesterday morning, again on a train, Johnny Foreigner threw a book at a fellow traveller, saying only “Take, is a gift.”   Well he smiled derisively and sneered off, lip a-curled.  Fellow traveller and his female companion burst out laughing in disbelief.  They were still chuckling as they wandered off, proud new owners of the slim paperback volume that Johnny Foreigner appeared to have intended as an insult.

I don’t know Johnny Foreigner, so perhaps I’m being unkind.  Perhaps he intended to commit a simple act of kindness, a recognition of common humanity.  Maybe he saw the other man and thought to himself ‘this looks like a man who would want and appreciate this book with which I have recently finished.’  I hope so.

Regardless of intent, the couple seemed to appreciate the gesture – if nothing else they had a little anecdote to share with their friends.

In my neck of the woods, basic human decency seems to be in increasingly short supply, which is a shame.  And so, inspired by Johnny Foreigner, this morning I resolved to give away a book to a total stranger.

After all, what was the worst that could happen?

After much thought, I chose Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, for no reason other than it’s damned funny and I thought someone might get a kick out of it.  After much toing and froing I selected my stranger, a slightly gawky, bespectacled gentleman in a fluorescent jacket.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I’d like to give you this,” tried to hand him the book.  Well he gave me a look like I’d just offered to buy his children.

Epic fail.

Not to be deterred I spent the next 25 minutes trying to give away a free book.  ‘No.’ was the typical, if austere, response.  Sometimes people stared at the thing in my hand like it was a syringe dripping with ebola virus, or a bag of anthrax.  I thought I might come off as eccentric, but people treated me as though I were criminally insane.  At one point I came close to grabbing someone and saying “Look, I don’t want anything, I’m not trying to sell you Jesus, I just want to give you a book.”

Jesus is apt here, because I was accused of trying to convert someone by stealth.

Finally, in desperation I decided upon one last stranger.  One more and I’d give up, further deflated.  I spied a middle-aged sort of chap, well-dressed with a nifty scarf.  It helped that he was actually reading a book.  So I sidled up to him – he gave me one of those slightly troubled peripheral glances you see so often in London.

“Excuse me,” I said, proffering up the book, “take this.  It’ll fit in your pocket (he had no bag) and you might like it.”

He took it, gave it a once-over and burst out with a charmed guffaw.  “That’s really very kind,” he said, “cheers!” and gave me a beaming smile of pleasant surprise.  I smiled back and walked off.

Now life has many questions and few answers.  But a book is a book.  This chap won’t ever know why I gave him a copy of Confederacy, but he might enjoy it, and if he does he’ll always have a story as to how he came into possession of it.  I made his morning, and in turn he made mine.

And so to you lot.  I’d be much obliged if you too would follow Johnny Foreigner’s example and give a book you love to a complete stranger for no reason other than it’s a stupidly easy thing to do, and rather sweet.  And I’d love to hear your own stories of book giving success and failure, too, so please do share.  oh, and tell your friends, see if we can’t make a movement out of it.

After all, if everyone indulged in random acts of kindness we’d all be in a better place.

Besides, tis’ the season of forced jollity and weeknight drunkenness, so it’s probably appropriate, even if you don’t actually ‘do’ Christmas.

30 thoughts on “Book Challenge

  1. i loved this post, funny and moving ! what a great idea you have ! i I took up the challenge ! and will do it tomorrow ! i swear and will tell you what happened !

  2. When I was a little kid (like 6) some old guy tried to give me some books too… But then my dad looked at me funny and I had to decline… Years later I’m regreating it! I’ll try and do it myself though now:)

  3. I do this all the time! Really. I’ve never had any trouble, though occasionally people try to pay me – always a bit awkward. Perhaps the friendliness and acceptance I generally see is an American or gender thing (I think it is likely easier to be small, cute (meant in the innocent looking, childlike sense) female in cases like this – especially when giving a child a book, but, of course, I have no way knowing otherwise)?

    Two things I wish I knew: if they actually read the book and, if so, what they thought.

    A Confederacy of Dunces is an excellent choice, I actually quote that book (and Animal Farm) quite frequently (usually when faced with canned food or a particularly heinous meeting).

    1. Americans tend to be an outgoing bunch, and of course I was in a suspicious town.

      What happens if you’re faced with a particularly heinous meeting of canned food?

      1. I wouldn’t know, it tends to be more of an either/or situation. If it’s canned food (and I know the person well enough): “Canned food is a perversion…I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul.”

        If I have a particularly bad meeting (like a meeting with a library donor who wants to give a “gift” with multiple strings attached): “The day before me is fraught with God knows what horrors.”

        And only some Americans, of course. I’m from Boston, where I’d be hesitant to give anyone anything, but moved to Boulder, CO which is the most perversely, but pleasantly happy place I’ve ever been. Sorry if I accidentally posted twice, I got distracted and couldn’t remember.

  4. People where I live, generally, the community is cold. For example a lot of the people on the metro will often stay in the reserved seats even if pregnant, old, or handicapped people appear. These selfish people are often in their twenties and on their iPhones.
    Point being, I will accept your challenge. However, I think a bigger challenge would be to both choose which book it is that is my favourite, and then bring myself to give it away.

    On another note, you have a new fan!

    1. Glad you’re accepting the challenge. It’s not a difficult challenge or even that unusual, but that’s sort of the point…

      And you can choose any old book long as it’s one you like and think someone else might like or that more people should know about

      1. Hahaha, yeah. I mean my mind wandered for a bit and I though… Well, if I gave someone The Wasp Factory, what would they think?
        It’s not, no. But I think because it’s quite casual but still rare it makes it all the more exciting. I will let you know how it goes!

    1. Please do, and let me know how it goes. I’m actually tempted to ape the old Hulk tv series with the sad piano music and go from town to town randomly handing out books

  5. Hmmm love to say I would do the book challenge. Cos it does sound like a plan. But I’m shy, What if they ask me “What you reading for..”

    Incidentally.. as no-oneelse has mentioned it. What did you do to help the disabled person? Did they ask? Did you ask? what happened?

    I will reblog this, some of my more outgoing friends may lap up the book challenge.

    1. Basically I’m not at my best in the mornings. I stood up to get my coat from the shelf above the seats, and my sister’s, and while I was there I sort of reflexively picked up the guy’s crutches and handed them to him. Then my sister picked up his wheelchair (one of those foldaway ones) and plonked it on the platform for him because it was rush hour and the guy could barely stand for all the yuppies elbowing their way off the train. He was pretty grateful for the help and the fact that we gave him the time of day.

      On reflection it could’ve gone down the wrong way, and if I’d stopped to think I probably wouldn’t have done it on the offchance I offended the guy. But like I said, I’m not really a morning person.

      I’m pretty shy myself, but I find that whenever I make the effort and talk to people they tend to be pretty friendly. Besides, you’re giving them a free book and if they ask you any follow-up questions just say what you think is good about the book and that you thought they might appreciate it. Or something.

  6. What i love most about this post is the speech on human decency. It’s SO true yet extremely sad that common decency is in short supply. Personally, I had a experience last week. I’m working a new seasonal job at a retail store. That day they put me in the front of the store at the first cash register so I was also the greeter. I see this little old lady walk in and I greet her and welcome her to the store when she stopped walking and looked at me. I asked her if she was alright, left the register and walked over to her and asked If i could help her. She asked me where something was and i told her in the back of the store. She almost broke my heart when she told me she doesn’t think she can make it. I offered to bring her up a selection and she adamantly declined. So, i offered to assist her in walking to the back of the store. I stayed with her and held her selections then rang her up when she was ready. I carried her bag for her and she was so reassured and happy that she made it to the back of the store and stopped she wanted to go upstairs to a different floor. I told her I’m not allowed to leave the floor but I can get someone else to accompany her. She declined the offer. After asking her several times if she can manage and if she manage holding her bag I walked her over to the elevator and pressed the button for her and everything. My boss saw and got on the elevator with her so i felt assured the little old lady would be fine.

    Not even five minutes I’m working the register at my station and HR people came down to tell me good job. I’m all confused and asked “what did i do?”. They told me for walking the old lady to elevator. I said thank you but meanwhile in my head I was like that shouldn’t be considered a good job. It should just be common decency and manners.

      1. I always wanted to leave a legacy. May I live on in the mind of that man as the girl in the garden who gave him the erotic novel. And may we have no more chance encounters.

  7. I think this is an amazing idea! The book I want to give is “Monstrous Regiment” by Terry Pratchett, as it always makes me laugh…but it IS technically part of a series. So I’ll have to think of something else…I work in a hospital, so I may try this out in the hallways on the way to lunch! 😀 I’ll definitely let you know how it goes…

    1. Monstrous Regiment is a good shout, actually – yes it’s part of the Discworld series, but it’s fairly standalone except for a couple of recurring characters making cameos.

      First one I read was Soul Music and I didn’t really suffer for it.

      Glad you like the idea. Let me know how it goes.

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