Steven Forth writes about a book exchange in his Kits neighbourhood. It's great to see these springing up everywhere in Vancouver.

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September 28, 2014

Trading books at the corner (Siri's book exchange)


Book exchanges have been sprouting up all over Vancouver over the past couple of years. In my neighborhood there are three on my walking paths. South towards Broadway there is one at Fifth Avenue and Trafalgar. West on the way to my granddaughters there is one along Third Avenue just past Macdonald. But my favorite is to the North, at Fifth Avenue and Trafalgar.  Siri’s book exchange.


Walking by the book exchange, leaving a few books, and picking up one or two has become an important part of my day. I tend to drop by most mornings as I cycle to work to see what is new. And on weekends I often walk up with my granddaughters in tow in a rusty red wagon and a load of books to drop off.


Siri used to garden around the edges of the fence. She liked to seed flowers and give them a bit of guidance and support, a nice balance of wild and cultivated plants, cosmos, some black-eyed Susan’s, long fine grasses, and the tougher plants that grow closer to the ground. And she liked to talk with people that walked by, and would sometimes slip in to get a book to share. She is missed and the book exchange keeps her memory alive. I have even dropped in some books of my father’s (he died in 2011).


Siri’s husband John Kidder included a bench when he built the book exchange and this has made a difference. For a while this summer, when I went in to work early, I met the fellow who was painting a house on the block. He would be sitting, having a smoke, reading a book from the box. And he brought in a lot of books too, mostly collections of short stories (not my favorite genre, but I did pick up a copy of the From Ink Lake collection edited my Michael Ondaatje). One Saturday morning I happened by when a fellow was dropping off a load of books. I focused in on Jean Yoon’s play The Yoko Ono project. I have become entranced with Yoko Ono’s early work over the past few years and the sort of action haiku (my term) in her book Grapefruit. As it turned out, this guy was also fascinated by this work, and we talked and tried to imagine actually following some of Yoko Ono’s instructions.




Imagine the clouds dripping. (Not hard to do in Vancouver)

Dig a whole in your garden to

put them in. (I have tried that, they keep seeping out)


1963 Spring




Draw a map to get lost.


1964 Spring


(Google does this for me now – and it does help me get lost some days.)


I later gave The Yoko Ono book on to one of the people I work with.


The book boxes have changed what I read and sometimes how I read it. There are a lot of interesting books around, most of which I have never heard of. The book exchange feeds my curiosity and blows open some of the barriers in my mind.


One of the first books I read from a book box was Elizabeth Lynn’s The Sardonyx Net. An odd book published back in 1981 that unpeels slavery, S&M and the abuse of prisons for economic gain. All are important themes today. I had never heard of this book, I live a sheltered life, but I am glad I read it.


This September I read the harrowing book of poems Children of Air India by Renée Sarojini Saklikar. I was aware of this book, but it is not easy to find and I probably would not have read it if I had not found it at the corner. It is a harrowing collage of memories and evidence from Air India Flight 182. Seek this book out. Memory is important. And Siri’s book exchange is becoming part of our neighbourhood memory.


I return most of the books after I read them. And I have noticed that other people are doing this as well. The books are being shared. A local, practical example of the sharing economy not dependent on any apps or virtual social networks.


In the past I tended to hoard books, and only gifted on those that were the most important to me or those that I really didn’t care about. The book exchanges have changed this. I am contributing some books that I think are important, books that matter to me and that I think may matter to others. Why has my behavior changed? One reason is the opportunity of course, it is easy and fun to drop off books at Siri’s and look to see what is new. But the availability of eBooks is also a factor. It is easier to give up a book when one knows it is easy to get a copy on-line and that you can probably find that elusive quote you are looking for when you need to. Having easy access to eBooks has made me more willing to share the books in my physical library.


The exception is poetry. I have kept pretty much all of my poetry books and I continue to buy more every month (I am waiting to buy Lisa Robertson’s new book Cinema of the Present at The Paper Hound down on West Pender near Cambie). The exception are the books where I have somehow ended up with multiple copies. This morning I contributed a copy of In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish. And I have a few copies of Yoshioka Minoru’s important work Kusudama translated by Eric Selland. I will put a few more copies of this wonderful book into local circulation. And I know I should let go of more poetry books. And I will. One day. Not yet.


This morning I ran into Siri’s husband, widower I suppose. He noticed me walking slowly by, my nose in John Webster’s The White Devil (seems like a good play to be reading as the political season begins). We started to talk (we share interests in the start-up economy, in books, and our sons are best friends) and he asked me what I had picked up. Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnnameable and Paris and London in the 18th Century: Studies in Popular Protest by George Rudé. I was delighted to find the former, had sort of been looking for it, and was intrigued to find the latter, a book I had never heard of or even imagined.


John told me about his plans for the corner. He is going to build a children’s book and toy exchange. Something down low, with a door that opens down to make it safer for small hands. I can hardly wait to go by with my granddaughters. I hope it becomes a place where kids go and meet each other



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