The Traveling Paperback: ‘Currency in the Land of the Transients’

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  02.08.08 | 9:13 AM ET

imagePhoto by eliazar via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over at Brave New Traveler, Rachel Friedman wonders about the impact of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader on the traditional paper book—and most importantly, on the traveling paperback. I’ve been tuning out the e-book debate for several years now, but this story caught my attention thanks to its loving reminiscences about that essential backpacking rite: the hostel book swap.

Friedman trades innumerable books during the course of a two-year round-the-world trip, and makes innumerable connections with strangers. In her final trade, she passes along a well-traveled copy of Betty Mahmoody’s “Not Without My Daughter”:

I read the book on the plane to JFK. Before I handed to it off to a harried-looking young woman extricating her massive backpack from the conveyor belt, I scribbled “New York City” in it. And then I sent it off into the world feeling like I had left some piece of myself in its pages. Some part of me would travel to far-flung cities long after I was back in the routine of my settled life.

Friedman could have been reading my mind when she wrote those last two lines: I felt the same way as I watched my copy of “The Devil Wears Prada” work its way around an all-female dorm in Florence. Each of us wrote our names and nationalities in the book after we’d finished it—Eva from Canada, Amanda from Australia, Liz from New Zealand—and I wondered if someday I might find the book again, in a hostel in India or Argentina, the inside cover entirely filled with names and places. It was a surprisingly powerful moment—and far more memorable than the paperback novel that inspired it.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

2 Comments for The Traveling Paperback: ‘Currency in the Land of the Transients’

John M. Edwards 02.08.08 | 12:39 PM ET

Hi Eva;

The book swap is indeed a great way to meet people, and pass along a memory on the sly. In the Cook Islands, a “native” family brought me to a deserted motu (uninhabited island) to play Robinson Crusoe for one night, camping out under the stars, and cooking fish on hot corals. As a Crusoe derelict I felt as rich as Croesus counting the brilliantine jewels of the night sky, rearranging them into new constellations.

Upon return, unsure of how to repay them, I gave the old man a copy of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. He certainly appreciated the gift, but his somewhat strange reaction, slightly folding the book up roughly, hinted that perhaps he thought I was cheap, or perhaps he wasn’t big on reading. He was of the opinion that the moon landing was a made-up story, because obviously the moon was too far away.

Caitlin 02.08.08 | 7:51 PM ET

I recommend the site as a modern online extension of the book swap. You register a book and it gets a unique ID number, which you writein the front cover of the book. Then wherever the book goes in the world, people can enter that number into the website, see where it’s been, and leave their own thoughts about the book.

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