Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pay It Forward with Literature

"This book has not been lost. It has no owner; it is part of the Argentine Free Book Movement, and it was left in this place so that you would find it."

This is the handwritten message on the flyleaf inside a copy of
El paraíso de los ladrones, a Spanish translation of British author G. K. Chesterton's The Paradise of Thieves, left on a bench in a public square in Buenos Aires. (

What a novel idea. Leave a book in a public space for the next reader to find and pass it on. This is part of the Argentine Free Book Movement to promote literacy in Argentina. The concept is simple, leave a book in a public space with a note attached asking whoever stumbles upon it to read it and then “release it” to the next reader.

This is the type of ingenuity that has placed Argentina on the literary map and given Buenos Aires the UNESCO title of World Book Capital 2011. The city will remain the World Book Capital until April 23, 2012 when the title will be conferred to Yerevan, Armenia.

With this title, Buenos Aires will be awarded with a 30,000 volume multilingual library. Further, artist Marta Minujín has started work on a 25-meter high "Tower of Babel," made entirely of books that will be donated after a month long display to a new multilingual library in the city (image above).

The city has over 200 bookshops, 70 libraries, numerous literary magazines and journals, and large and small publishing companies, including original initiatives like 'Eloísa Cartonera', established by a group of writers in partnership with informal garbage pickers. (

I hope this superb concept is readily adopted in the United States. I will assist by leaving one of my own books on the train in Boston. Should you find it, I implore you to read it and pass it on.

Kudos Argentina, may we follow in your footsteps and turn a new page.

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