Books Gone Wild

Dana Morcus is too young to recall a certain ’60s mantra: If you love something, set it free. But she has practiced it thousands of times —almost 10,000 times in the last three years by her calculations.

But Morcus, 36, is no flower child. The houses in her Brunswick neighborhood are strictly suburban. Her work includes home-schooling her teenage son and looking after a gregarious kindergartner. She also works hard to spread the written word, one book at a time.

As part of the nearly 600,000-member international community at, which promotes literacy, Morcus leaves books in public places such as coffee shops, fast-food restaurants and doctors’ offices. She and her fellow members call it “releasing books into the wild,” and they do it anywhere someone might happen upon them.

“I release every single day,” Morcus says. During the last week of September alone she gave away 88 books. Morcus joined the online community in January 2005. So far, 1,082 of her books have been “caught” by readers who’ve reported their whereabouts on the Web site. She’s also brought 76 new members to and made new friends along the way. Occasionally, she’ll get a tiny gift in the mail, maybe a scented candle or bag of chocolates, from one of them.

“There’s a camaraderie,” she says. “If I didn’t have feedback, it wouldn’t be as much fun, and I wouldn’t do it as much for sure.”

Morcus frequents used bookstores and library and yard sales to buy up titles. She tapes a “free book” label on the spine of each one. Then, she releases. And we’re not talking about dropping a spare tome here or there. She releases by the armload, the box load.

She’ll also mail them to fellow friends, like a Nebraska member who distributes books to single parents and poor youngsters, and a second-grade class in West Jordan, Utah, who have sent her thank-you notes, photos and a handmade birthday card.

Not everyone understands what she’s doing, though. “People chase after me and say, ‘Hey, you forgot your book!’ ” Morcus says. “Or they want to know, ‘Why are you giving away a perfectly good book?’ ”

She’s doing it simply because she wants everyone to read more. Her one-time goal had been to release a book for each person living in Ohio. But the state has about 11.5 million residents — way too many books for even a pro like Morcus to think about unloading.

“I could see how bookcrossing could be obsessive,” she says. But she won’t let it take over her life. Besides, she has other things to do: garden, can and freeze the vegetables she grows, and, of course, read.
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