Underground Book Exchange Comes to New York City

Adrian Versteegh

Literature-craving commuters in New York City can now enjoy their own version of a program first launched in the London Underground six months ago—a free book exchange. Choose What You Read NY, a volunteer-run nonprofit, has begun setting up camp near major subway stations on the first Tuesday of each month to collect and redistribute donated books. The group’s Web site calls the scheme “an alternative to the free papers that get tossed out and the digi-trash that crowds our time.”

Claire Wilson, who cofounded Choose What You Read in London, says the program is an invitation to step off the “conveyor belt of information.” What began in February as a Facebook page quickly grew to become a miniature movement and a regular fixture on the Tube. “This isn’t about being highbrow,” Wilson told the Financial Times. “We’re not saying we want everyone to read Kafka on the train. If you want to read a tabloid, go for it—but choose one and buy it. Don’t just take whatever is pushed at you.”

Borrowing a page from the BookCrossing phenomenon—in which users tag, release, and then track books around the world—the Choose What You Read NY exchange lets donors and readers add their names to a list on the inside of each book’s cover. Aside from its subway locations, the program maintains drop boxes at the Revival Bar on East 15th Street, the Whole Foods Market on Union Square, and East Village literary hangout KGB.

The Choose What You Read NY Web site includes information for prospective donors and volunteers, as well as a link to the group’s Facebook page. The next book exchange is scheduled for Tuesday, September 1.