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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

6 Books in a Backpack: Episode 1

It was raining when I get up this morning and I might have chosen to be lazy and hang around at home if I hadn't previously set myself up for action. But I had so I load six books in a backpack and set off on my little red bike in the rain.

The source of this motion and the source of several more trips I have planned over the next few weeks are the result of a thought I had a few weeks ago, a thought that found expression in the following email.

From: Kent Peterson
To: bcc
Date: Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 6:51 PM
Subject: 6 Books in a Backpack

OK, this is going out blind CC to a mess of folks. Some of you I see often, some I haven't seen in years. I hope if you are getting this you at least go "Oh yeah, Kent, I remember that guy..."

Anyhow, I'm always looking for excuses to get out, ride my bike someplace, chat with folks, think about things. I had this random thought today about how I have a lot of books that are good, on all kinds of subjects, that I probably won't read again. Maybe I should get rid of them, then I'd have a bit more room to get more stuff and...then I had the thought. Here goes.

I take 6 books. Not 6 junky books but 6 books that I like. That I'd recommend to a friend. Six books that I'd be happy to keep actually. I put 'em in a backpack and go off somewhere to meet up with a friend. Probably a coffee shop. Heck, let's have the friend pick the spot.

The friend and I show up at the meeting place. We each have a pack with 6 books. We show what we brought. We chat about books. We chat about old times. We have a nice beverage. Maybe we swap a book, or two, or six or none. No big deal. The rule is this, however: You can't bring home more books than you left home with. You can come home with the same books or different books but not more books.

Got it?


You're the friend. This can happen any time. Propose a time & place. Don't worry if it's too far or too inconvenient. If it doesn't work, I'll tell you. These days I'm working Fri, Sat, Sun & Monday but things change and schedules can flex. But if you've got some time on a Tue, Wed or Thursday, think about a meet-up.

BTW this can be one of my weird excuses for travel. Portland folks, I'm thinking of you.

Also, please steal this idea and clone it around to your friends. But anytime you feel like tossing 6 books in a backpack and going someplace, let me know.

I hope everyone is having a lovely time.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

PS, if this is of zero interest to you please ignore it!

As it turns out, I got quite a few responses. Tomorrow I'll meet up with my friend Lexi in Seattle, but today is episode one of 6 Books in a Backpack and I'm meeting up with my pal Joe at the Starbucks in Lakemont.

This particular Starbucks is most of the way up Cougar Mountain and I'm on a bike with little wheels and 3 gears. Even though the trip from my house in only maybe 6 miles, that last mile up the mountain makes me feel like I've gotten a workout. I'm damp enough that the warm coffee is very welcome.

Joe rolls up on his Brompton and confesses the same thought I'd had, "If we hadn't set this up in advance, I probably wouldn't have gone out." Part one of the plan is successful, it spurred us both into action. We talk of many things: of bikes, advocacy, randonneuring, jobs we've had in the past, college courses, riding at night & raingear. Eventually, we talk of books.

I'd grabbed six books with Joe in mind and he'd cheated a bit, he had seven plus he had a book I'd loaned him months ago that he was returning. Despite this slight breach of the rules, we wind up swapping nearly everything.

We give quick summaries of the books we've brought. My side of the conversation goes something like this:

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest -- "Steampunk alternate history. Zombies in Seattle. Poison Gas. Airships. Kick Ass Heroine."

Spook Country by William Gibson -- "Gibson's follow up to 'Pattern Recognition' (the borrowed book Joe was returning). Some of the same characters. Great fun."

The Lost City of Z by David Grann -- "Story of Percy Fawcett, last of the old school explorers who vanished into the Amazon Jungle in the 1920s. Since then dozens of people have died going into the jungle trying to find out what happened to him. This book was written by a not-at-all-outdoorsy New York writer who winds up obsessed with the mystery and ultimately goes to the Amazon himself. Since he got the book written, you know he survives but it's a hell of a page-turner."

A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols -- "Another true adventure. 1968, the first solo round-the-world sailing race. 9 guys start, one makes it back. Awesome stories."

Drop City by T. C. Boyle -- "Novel set in the early 70s. California hippies run into trouble with their commune and move the whole operation to wild Alaska when one of them inherits a chunk of land from his uncle. Great cross-cultural utopia vs reality stuff."

The Signal by Ron Carlson -- "Like a Hemingway novel without the macho crap. Guy goes camping with his ex-wife after totally screwing up their marriage. Great writing, hell of a story."

Remarkably, Joe hasn't read any of the books I've brought and he wants them all.

We go through his books. Aside from returning Gibson's Pattern Recognition, Joe has three books he doesn't need to describe, since I've already read them. But we both agree that they'd be good books to go into my future trade pile so I take Woody Allen's Getting Even, Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes, and Timothy Egan's The Good Rain.

Since he's brought one extra book, I pass on the volume by P. G. Wodehouse. I enjoy Wodehouse's stuff immensely, but I read his works as Project Gutenberg files on my Kindle or MiniDroid.

Joe totally sells me on John McPhee's The Founding Fish. Joe confesses, "I'd never even heard of the shad until I read this book and McPhee makes them fascinating." I've read other books by McPhee, so I know what Joe means. I'm looking forward to digging into this one.

I admit I'm a bit nervous in taking on Ken Follett's massive World Without End. Joe tells me it's set in the 14th century and it's the sequel to another huge Follet novel set in the 12th century. "But you don't need to read 'em in order and it's really, really good. It totally moves along and you'll learn a lot." It's books of this size and scope that made me basically give up watching TV. I found that when I gave up watching every damn episode of Law & Order, I suddenly had the time to read thousand page novels. That seems like a better use of my time.

Joe's final selection is Nice Work by David Lodge. "Laugh out loud funny," he assures me. "Really, I was reading it on a plane and laughing. People kept looking at me. It was embarrassing."

So Joe has six different books and I have six different books. We load the books into our packs and head out to the bikes. It's stopped raining.

I've never been to Joe's place and he doesn't live far away, so I go over to check out his bikes. Joe is a guy with a proper set of priorities. His cars stay outside. His garage looks like this:

That brings episode one of 6 Books in a Backpack to a close. I have more trips like this planned and I hope the idea spreads. If you're anywhere near my part of the world and want to swap some books, drop me a note (kentsbike at gmail dot com). If you want to do something like this with your pals, please do so.

Keep 'em rolling & keep reading,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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