It isn’t a long walk – the nature trail that goes from one end of Clearwater Park to the other. It just feels like it, at least on the hot and humid days. That’s what prompted Laurel Jepson to start looking for a bench, so she could sit down and take a breather. She spotted one, about fifty feet up ahead and walked as fast as her slightly dehydrated body would allow. The wooden bench was a sight for sore eyes – or legs in Laurel’s case, but it was what was resting on the edge of the bench that really stood out.
“Oh no, someone left their book behind,” Laurel said as soon as she sat down. She looked around to seed if she could spot someone who might appear to be searching for something, but she didn’t see a soul. What she did see was a fluorescent coloured sticky note on top of the book with the following eleven words written upon it:
Please, enjoy this book on me and then pass it on!
“Well, isn’t that nice?” Laurel said about the gift before her. Great Books by David Danby. I wonder what it’s about.”
The synopsis on the back of the book told her that it was the true life story of a film critic who returned to university to study some of history’s greatest thinkers, such as Homer, Locke, Nietzche, and Conrad.
“Neat!” Laurel then said. “It’s about time I broadened my mind.”
Laurel wasn’t the only person to find a free book that day. Across town at Perk Up!, a local independent coffee shop, Ben Schuman sat down at his table to find a copy of The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton. Outside of a jewelry store, Len Masterson found a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez waiting for him. Joanna Carpenter discovered Heather McElhatton’s Pretty Little Mistakes just as she was walking into her family owned travel agency. Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, Mr. Nice by Howard Marks, The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley, Life After God by Douglas Coupland, The Masked Rider by Neil Peart, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye…they were all found scattered in unexpected places across town with the same note attached.
Speculation arose as to who might have left the books behind, and theories were greatly debated both in the local newspaper and on the local radio stations. Could it be a bookstore owner reaching out to those who might not be able to afford to buy books on their own? Was there special meaning behind the books chosen? Will there be more books in the future?
Once a month throughout the year that followed, dozens of more free books were indeed left throughout the city, and always with the same note. Those lucky enough to find one did just as they had been instructed and soon the city of Clearwater, with a population of just 72,000 became known as the most well read place on the East Coast.
No one ever found out who their book loving fairy godmother was, and that’s just the way she wanted it, because to her it was the words that mattered and the lessons she hoped they taught the readers. She was just a voracious reader, paying it forward.