Give a book you love to a total stranger.
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.
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.