Books Are Meant to Be Shared

This is an essay by Jessica McCann.

Long before Hermione Granger mesmerized little girls with her cleverness and magic, a little witch who lost her broom right before Halloween captured my heart. The Littlest Witch by Jeanne Massey is the first book I recall reading entirely by myself. I was in second grade.

My family had just returned from a trip to the public library, and I promptly disappeared into my bedroom with an armload of books. I’m sure I read them all. But there was something about The Littlest Witch that gripped me. I adored it.

For days after, I plotted and schemed to come up a way to keep the book, rather than take it back to the library. Alas, when the due date arrived, my mom made sure all the books were promptly returned. I consoled myself with the thought that by returning it, some other little girl would get to enjoy it, too. It was an epiphany. Books are meant to be shared.

Fast forward 30 plus years. My debut novel had just been published, and I was making the rounds to local bookstores with review copies in hand. I was wearing my metaphorical marketing hat, trying to sell books. The Arizona State University bookstore was among the places I visited, since I had done a lot of freelance writing for the university through the years. I was on campus around lunch time, so I grabbed some food at the Memorial Union and found a shady place outside to eat and people-watch.

The MU was a swarm of students and faculty — texting, typing on laptops, talking on cell phones. They all seemed so busy, so plugged in. All I could think was what a perfect day it was to sit in under a tree and read a book. My marketing hat had apparently blown away on the spring breeze, and my reader hat magically appeared in its place. But the only book I had with me was my own…

That’s when my second-grade epiphany echoed in my head. Books are meant to be shared. So I pulled out one of the review copies from my bag, opened it to the inside cover and wrote a note: “Books are meant to be shared. Please read this, if you’d like, and then leave it somewhere for someone else to enjoy.” I gathered my things, set the book down on the bench beside me and walked away.

That was about a year ago, and since then I’ve left behind a few more books in public places (books I had read and wanted to share, not my own book). I have also since discovered, a fun social media site that encourages people to share books and tracks where those books have been.

Why do I love sharing books this way? In my mind’s eye, I can picture someone accidentally sitting on the book, then picking it up, cracking open the cover and getting swept away by the story. I also agree with Book Crossing’s way of thinking: “Your book doesn’t want to spend its life on your shelf gathering dust; it wants to get out there and touch lives!”

Now that’s magic.


Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free is her award-winning debut novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website and on Twitter (@JMcCannWriter).

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  1. Andrew Blackman

    Nice post! I’ve always been caught between the impulse to share a book I love and the desire to build my own little “library”. I think freeing the book to have a new life is probably the better option. I wonder how this will work with ebooks, though – in the understandable desire to limit piracy, a lot of publishers have put so much copy protection on ebooks that it’s hard even to share them with my wife, let alone the world!

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      Books are the hardest possessions to free myself of. Most have such meaning. This idea might make it easier to pass along some.

    2. Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter)

      Thanks! I understand what you mean about having a library. My shelves are unwieldy though, so I find I must cull the stacks every now and then to avoid avalanche! As for ebooks, I bet it will get easier to share them in the not-too-distant future, especially now that libraries are venturing into ebook lending.

  2. Barbara Waite

    Thanks Jessica- What a marvelous idea. I love the thought of leaving a note with just those very words written in my book to be discovered by someone. I look forward to your next book. As a child I was fascinated by “The girl of the Limberlost.” As an adult it is rare that I do not have 2 or 3 books “going” at the same time. Now to discover where to leave my book for someone to discover. Barbara Anne waite

  3. Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter)

    So glad you like the idea, Barbara. Your book is a treasure waiting to discovered, that’s for sure. I loved reading it. Have fun deciding where to leave it!

  4. Anita

    Thanks for sharing the site

    I recently started teaching our four-year-old this concept. When we went to visit a family that has very few books, I asked him to select one he could give to the boy who is about his age. He choose to take two books to share.

    1. Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter)

      You’re welcome, Anita. What a wonderful thing you’re teaching your son. Keep up the good work!

  5. Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I LOVED this post, Jessica – and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that you have chosen to share books in the same way that you graciously share advice and marketing wisdom with others. I love the concept of tracking a book’s whereabouts and I really wonder where ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE is now! I confess, though, to being a book hoarder myself. Something about seeing the different spines along my shelf inspires and transports. Lovely post.

    1. Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter)

      Thanks, Melissa! Don’t feel bad about keeping books you love. Having a shelf full of books is a treasure, for sure. Thanks again for stopping by and for the kind words.

  6. Joseph Dante

    I used to know someone who did Bookcrossing for a while, and she really loved it. I’ve also done book trades with a few people online, which I think is a great idea too. This is just a theory I have, but I honestly think our favorite books usually end up being lent out or given to us by someone, rather than something we specifically search out for ourselves.

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      Allegedly, at a party where I may have had a bit too much of a certain alcoholic beverage celebrating a friends’ birthday I may have given away my copy of The Grapes of Wrath to someone I had just met that night. I made him promise to bring it back, but I never saw the guy again. I can’t be entirely sure he even showed any interest in reading it, however, in my state of mind I certainly perceived he should, in fact, read it. Whether he wanted to or not was irrelevant.

      I can’t say I’m proud of the behavior in that case, but it fits the topic of book sharing and I still get a good laugh about it when I look at my new copy of Grapes of Wrath on the book shelf.

      I like to think he read it, it changed his life for the better, and he couldn’t part with the book afterwards. I have no basis in fact to believe this is the case.

      1. Joseph Dante

        Haha. Yeah, who knows for sure, right? It could very well be his new favorite.

        It’s also nice having friends suggest books to you if they know your tastes especially – most of my favorite books have been recommendations or gifts from people who know something about me. I always appreciate that.

  7. Bonnie Wilhelm

    I just heard a commercial on our local radio station this morning while driving about the same concept. It is something new in our area to share used books with families that can’t afford to buy them. Because I was driving at tne time I wasn’t able to write down tne information so I will have to wait till I hear the commercial again. Good idea.

    1. Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter)

      Sounds interesting, Bonnie. Let us know if you learn more. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

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