Saturday, September 17, 2011

Someone, please tell me this isn't a bad idea!

Something to bring together strangers and have intelligent discussions.

I really enjoy buying used books. Usually it is a cheaper alternative to buying new and it is worth it as long as the book is not in too bad a condition. In fact, when I shop for used CD's I purposefully buy ones in damaged jewel cases because they're cheaper than the ones in better condition, and at least the CD's themselves are not damaged. But more so, I think, I really like buying used books for their character. Sure, they already feature characters (see what I did thar?), but I mean the character of the book itself.

I was reading Maus: A Survivor's Tale just now. It is quite the used copy, two paperback volumes in a box with creased edges and somewhat ripped coverings. I don't think they make the two-volume version anymore; usually you'll find the complete volume. One of the more interesting things I find when reading used books are footnotes, highlights and underlinings by past readers, presumably for academic purposes. It's interesting because it can provide emphasis on things I might not have considered before, and in some cases it even reveals the personality of the person who owned the book before me. The Maus volumes probably haven't been taught in many literature classes (though they ought to), but it has the name of the previous owner on both inside covers of both volumes. I also encountered a pair of doodles on one of the pages in the second volume.

It got me thinking: what if someone left more than just a name, doodle or highlight? I'm not sure how I came to this, but what if someone left a message for the next reader? You could talk about what you liked about the book, what you didn't like, and recommend other books relating to it. I mean, what else are we using all those blank pages at the end of the book for? Better yet, why not give someone your contact information, like an email address or a Facebook profile? You could leave it and the next person to see it would send an email to you with the intention of discussing the book and making a new friend. The idea is to bring two complete strangers together and to have them discuss a book, or really anything that you experience.

I told my sister about this idea, and she brought up some concerns. They are sensible, of course, but I think she might be a little paranoid. She said it could be dangerous to leave your email for just anyone, that anyone could see it, and that "anyone" could sell it to spam senders, or worse, people who would steal your identity. She has a good point here, I think. I'm not sure how anyone could steal your identity from just your email address. They could steal it by gaining access to your computer, but I don't think just an email address is enough, especially since it's between you and the person reading the book. I don't think people who frequent used books stores are also people that want to steal someone's identity; I think they'd be busier writing computer viruses and hacking into databases where your email is already stored.

Which is exactly what my next point means. Your email address is probably already out there for someone to steal. Facebook has it, Google has it and anything else you've signed up for has it, too. Now, I'm not saying you should give away your email address just because it's already out there. That certainly wouldn't help much. All I'm saying is if someone wants to steal your identity, they probably aren't looking for it in a book. Then there's me. I'm already putting my email out there for anyone to see, since I have this blog set up. You can go to the right side of the screen, click on the link to my profile and choose to send me an email. There, now you have my email! It's that easy! It can spread to anyone from there, just like it can spread from the book if I put it there. Of course, it's not safe for everyone else to do it, and I think I would probably create a new email address for this. If anyone did it, I would encourage them to do that, too.

Her comments also made me think about how scared we are of strangers in general. The whole "don't talk to strangers" rule that our parents tend to give us, I think, has made us grow up to be apathetic towards each other. Maybe it's just that we see so many people all the time, but I want to make a way that someone can bring themselves just a little closer to a random stranger and make a new friend. There are obvious dangers in giving away your email address to a stranger, but I don't think it has any more risk than giving your real address to a pen pal, especially now that Google Maps has allowed us to pinpoint exactly where everything is. I could call it the Chain Book Club or something.

So, I encourage you, if you don't think I'm a fool, and you can brave the dangers involved, try it. Before you sell a book, write a message at the end and include your email address. Tell the person to email you and discuss the book, what you liked and disliked, and most of all, make a new friend. Hell, try it with music, DVD's or video games, anything you can sell (though if you were to go through GameStop with a game and a message inserted in the box, you might want to explain it to the clerk before he/she removes it). I'm already taking a risk of something like identity theft happening to me simply by having this blog exist, so I think I'm going to try this and see what happens.

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