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Littering Literature

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A Sandpoint couple is getting national attention for a website that promotes an activity as old as writing itself - sharing your favorite books with others.

If there’s one thing avid readers have in common, it’s their inability to keep a secret – give them a good book and the second thing they’re going to do (reading it being the first) is pass it on to someone else.

For a Sandpoint couple interested in the Internet, formalizing that process was a next, natural step – and Bookcrossing.com was born.

“This truly is a labor of love,” explained Dr. Bruce Pedersen, a veterinarian who, along with his wife and business partner, Heather Mehra-Pedersen, and an old college friend, Ron Hornbaker, founded the website. “Books have always been an important part of my life. There are two things that truly change a person’s life – the people you meet and the books you read.”

The Bookcrossing idea is simple: Register, read and release books into the world at large. Log on to the website (www.bookcrossing.com) and register your book by entering its ISBN (usually located on the inside cover of paperbacks; on the dust jacket and the publisher’s page of a hardback). Read the book, write about it on the site, then release it into the wild for someone to find who will, hopefully, read and register the book themselves before releasing it again. Some people describe it as “littering the world with literature.”

Bruce and Ron have been friends since college and, even though Ron was in Kansas City and Bruce was in Pennsylvania, “the three of us stayed in touch. During the heat of the technology craze, we started a software company, HumanKind Systems, Inc.” Bruce was a veterinarian, Heather a stockbroker and Ron a web developer – and those disparate skills came together to form a highly successful company - the company that birthed Bookcrossing.

“We were at a convention in Texas, sitting in a hotel room, when Ron told us about this concept,” Heather, the Chief Financial Officer for HKSI explained. “I said, “That’s a really stupid idea. How’s it going to make any money?” But it was never about money.”

“This was an experiment in marketing, in growing a website, and in using a truly elegantly written database,” Bruce explained. “This tool was created simply to help share books.”

And it’s a tool that’s attracted close to 70,000 members, has 23 million hits a month, and is garnering attention from National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Family Circle Magazine, CNN and more. “I thought it was a good idea, but I had no idea the level of pent-up excitement about something like this,” Ron told NPR in a recent interview. This altruistic website may well end up being worth millions.

“It’s been a thrill to watch this site catch fire,” Heather said. “Our son, Kipling, is just eight years old and he has 83 books registered on the site. Can you imagine what kind of college portfolio he’s going to have?”

There’s no advertising on Bookcrossing.com, no paid memberships and promotion of the site has been handled exclusively through word-of-mouth and free advertising from various media. It does, however, cost money to buy the bandwidth, and to design and maintain the site. Those costs are covered by the owners themselves, and by the sale of Bookcrossing shirts, mugs and accessories on the site. “We thought (advertising) would detract from what we were trying to do,” explained Bruce. “It just didn’t fit.”

Of the close to 70,000 members on the site, 47,537 are from the U.S. and 5,604 are from Canada. Italy comes in third with 5,100 members. There are 19 members who live in Russia, 271 in China and Malaysia posts an impressive 313 members. There’s even two members from Uzbekistan. In Idaho, 182 people belong while Montana has 112 members. All of this information is available on the site through some rather impressive search features.

My own favorite book of all time, The Lord of the Rings, is currently released in nine separate locations – including Italy, Belgium and Australia. The most popular book released is a tie between John Grisham’s A Painted House (a really good book) and Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent (a truly excellent book which, naturally, was loaned to me by a friend.) The most traveled of all books released is A Ogni Piè So-Spinto... Diario Intimo di un Vero Briccone (Constantly Pushed to Anger- Diaries of a True Rogue) by Michele Pernozzi. One of the chroniclers says it’s a "buona lettura" – a good book.

One book currently “in the wild” in the Sandpoint area was released by Laura Bry, owner of Sandpoint Macs. “I heard about (Bookcrossing) on NPR – twice,” she said. “I think it’s one of the best ideas, ever. It appeals to me because I’m such a believer that reading opens up the world- you can learn how to do anything by reading books. So I decided to just start releasing some of my books.”

Once the site was out, book groups began forming around it, and some businesses decided to become “Crossing Zones”- places were people can drop off or pick up books that have been released into the wild. Currently there are about 45 Crossing Zones – including a brand new one at the deli of Ivano’s Ristoranté on the corner of First and Pine in Sandpoint.

That Bookcrossing is such a success is no real surprise given the abilities of its founders. In 1994, two years after Bruce received his medical degree, he and Heather hung a shingle in Heather’s mother’s Schuylkill, Pennsylvania basement for a veterinary clinic. Six years later, they sold a thriving practice with over 12,000 clients, and moved to Sandpoint to raise their three children – Kipling, 8, Rio, 7 and Selkirk, age 5.

Retirement, however, was not in the cards. Humankind Systems is still an active software development company which is currently promoting an email tracking tool to help businesses manage their customer relations. They also own projects like ContestClicker.com and VetExperts.com, and have developed an Internet viewer tool called LookClose.com. Bruce is a relief vet at Heather's sister and brother-in-law’s clinic – North Idaho Animal Hospital. The pair homeschool their three children, and Heather, who published The Log Home Book in 1999 with her best friend, Cindy Thiede, is a part of the Praise and Worship Team at First Christian Church, doing sign language. They own 29 rental properties in three states and are looking to build a family complex on 26 acres they’ve purchased near Syringa Heights. And in his spare time, Bruce has taken up flying – he’s just two hours away from his pilot's license.

“Bruce has such visionary skills,” Heather explained. “In reference to our synergistic teamwork, I've heard it depicted that Bruce is the heart and soul of our business, and I am the lifeblood. Without him there’s be no clients, and without me there’d be no money! We are like two parts of a rope - entwined and unbreakable.”

“We love being able to live here and to do what we do,” Bruce added. “We think we’ve done a really good thing and feel like we’ve made a difference.”

To find out what book Laura Bry released, and where you can find it at, log on to www.bookcrossing.com

A special "thank you" to Jim Lippi of Ivano's Ristoranté for providing the Italian translation.

SIDEBAR: CATCH IT WHILE YOU CAN

Register, read and release. What happens to a book released in Idaho? We wanted to know, so the River Journal has released a book at the Ivano's Crossing Zone and we'll track where it goes - and we'll print updates on where it can be found. But what book to release?

I went straight over to the bookcase my brother Joe brought me for my birthday, which holds all my favorite books. There's Katherine Neville's "The Eight," Caleb Carr's "Alienist," and Gregory Benford's "Timescape." There's "Watership Down," "Little Women," and T.H. White's "The Once and Future King." There's five different sets of "The Lord of the Rings," "Bleak House," and a signed copy of "Born on the Fourth of July." In fact, there's five shelves of great books and not a one of them do I want to give away. Hmmm.

There's lots more bookshelves in my house to search, offering treasures like Peter Tompkin's pyramid books, Ken Burns "The Civil War," and one of my all-time favorites, "Don't Know Much About History." Complete collections of Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth George and Rex Stout. I come across "Speaking Ill of the dead: Jerks in Montana History." And I want to keep every one of these, too. Register, read and release is harder than I thought.

Maybe I'll have better luck with the paperbacks - and there's hundreds of those. Michael Connelly, Anne Perry and all the Shannara books. John Dunning, John Grisham and Jonathan Kellerman. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Dean Koonz, Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. Nope, no giveaways there.

And then I hit the treasure. Sharyn McCrumb's "The Ballad of Frankie Silver." This is a good book, and it bears the one characteristic that none of the other books I own seems to posess - I have two copies.

A New York Times Notable Book, "The Ballad of Frankie Silver" is an Appalachian mountain tale that takes the reader back and forth between today's world and North Carolina in 1833 - the year Frankie Silver becomes the first woman to beh anged for murder in that state. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood, the main character in this novel, is fictional; Frankie Silver is not. She lived and married and birthed children and was hanged, just shy of 170 years ago. Why she died is the story that's told - and a mystery that still haunts people today.

This is a good book, an entertaining read, but most interesting to me is that Frankie Silver just might be family - there were an awful lot of connections between the Silvers and the Presleys of Burke County, North Carolina - and those were the same Presleys I am a direct descendent of.

So here she goes - "The Ballad of Frankie Silver" is released at Ivano's, on the corner of First and Pine in Sandpoint. Pick her up, register at bookcrossings.com, read the book, then send her on her way.

 

 

  

 

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Landon Otis

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