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Books in the Wild. It’s Hunting Season!

Posted by Thomas Riggs in books on August 20, 2009

The message was simple and soft and alluring. And since I was in France, it was also in French.

Allons voir plus loin, veux-tu? Voir la mer, la baie des anges et ses palmiers . . . un peu plus loin, de l’autre coté du Musée Masséna.

Translated into our more accented English, it said,

Let’s go see farther. Do you want to? See the sea, the Bay of Angels and its palm trees . . . a little farther, on the other side of the Masséna Museum.

Nice, Musee Massena

Musée Masséna by DrOMM via Flickr

Musée Masséna? That’s in Nice, where I live, so how could I say no?

I had never met the person who wrote the note. In fact, I read the message on, a website that promotes “free range books.” The idea is simple: read a book, and afterward, instead of putting it to rest on your bookshelf, set it free. The site gives suggestions.

Leave it on a park bench, a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym – anywhere it might find a new reader!

When I found the listing for Allons voir plus loin, veux-tu? by Anny Duperey, I saw there were almost 800 books “in the wild” in France, all waiting for someone to find them. In the United States there were some 10,000 books left in parks, coffee shops, and other random places.

The site also lets readers post notes about books before passing them on to someone else. This copy of Allons voir plus loin, veux-tu? began in Feins, Bretagne, in the north of France. It then traveled to nearby Pléneuf-Val-André before heading south to Lyon and finally Nice in southeastern France, where a reader left a rather uninspired recommendation: “Enfin je ne sais pas pourquoi j’avais envie de lire ce livre! . . . mais j’ai passé un bon moment” (”In fact, I don’t know why I felt like reading this book! . . . but I had a good time”).

After reading the note, I decided it was my turn to “passer un bon moment.” Fortunately there was one more clue: “Livre laissé côté rue de France, sur les grilles du Musée” (”book left on the side of rue de France, on the gate of the museum”). As I was going to a concert that evening not far from the museum, I decided to “go hunting,” as the site says.

The museum is a stone’s throw from the sea and next to the famous Hotel Negresco, where, as one site claims, Claudia Schiffer, Orson Welles, and Michael Jackson all stayed. But rue de France is one street in from the sea, and at night, when I arrived, it seemed desolate. A light breeze was pushing around a plastic sack. I was wearing headphones, listening to the French pop singer Bénabar, and reached my hand through the gate to search through a thick stretch of shrubbery. I must have seemed like a thief or a homeless person.

After a while, something didn’t seem right.

I looked around and across the street. Two prostitutes stood waiting for tourists. A flic, as cops are called here, sped by on a motorcycle. Great, I thought. This is all fine, and I don’t mind the weirdness, but someone already took the book.


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