London has a new local library. It may only have opened for fifteen minutes, earlier this evening, but more books exchanged hands in that time that would normally be exchanged at your local library in a week. Welcome to Soho Square.
About four hundred expectant bibliophiles trooped down to Soho this evening, each of us clutching an unwanted book. All we'd been told was where to be and when, and that we might want to register our book at bookcrossing.com because we'd probably end up giving it away. We were grouped in six pubs by starsign, and I wonder how the Cancerians and Scorpios felt to find themselves in a rather pricey gay bar on the north edge of Soho Square. Me, I headed to the Dog and Duck in Frith Street along with the other Pisceans and tried to buy a drink at the tiny bar. This being London's third flash mob, I recognised and chatted to a few people who'd been before. Getting sad, isn't it?
Round came the small slips of paper listing our instructions and it was evident that, on their third attempt, our organisers were to be congratulated. A simple concept this time, one that could be summarised in just four words - swap books and applaud. Nothing complicated about mobile phones and letters of the alphabet, just go and stand in Soho Square from 6:30 and swap a book with a stranger. Every time you swap a book, smile for 3 seconds. And every time you see someone else swapping a book, applaud. At 6:45 leave. Simple. effective. So off we went.
We were invited to stand in a different corner of the square according to the type of book we'd brought with us - one corner for fiction, one for non-fiction, another for science fiction, the fourth for romance, and Harry Potter in the middle by the Tudor-style groundsman's cottage. I'd brought along a newish novel that I really couldn't get into and would be glad to get rid of, and so headed for the jam-packed fiction corner. Here was a sight to delight any jaded librarian, a huge crowd of people intent on literary betterment. And so the bartering began, to rapturous applause.
[take along Dead Air by Iain Banks] So, who was going to get my brand spanking new book? I hunted around for a decent replacement. [swap Dead Air for Dracula by Bram Stoker - applause] Bit of a classic, but probably not something I still wanted to be left with at the end of the evening. [swap Dracula for Nature of Australia - weak applause] Mistake. The cover looked nice, but this natural history book was no literary classic. It had to go. [swap Nature of Australia for a Japanese cartoon novel - wild applause] Result! This one looked brand new, with a cover like a bright washing powder packet. But... [swap Japanese cartoon novel for Women's Tennis Association handbook 2001 - gasps of disbelief] Why did I do that? My new book was clearly a booby prize, the literary equivalent of 3-2-1's Dusty Bin. Quick, only a few minutes left! [swap Women's Tennis Association handbook 2001 for a children's book called Look! - mocking applause] Not much better really, Twenty pages, mostly pictures. [swap Look! for Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton - applause - applause] Phew.
And so I came home with a book worth reading. Even better, it had a bookcrossing label in the front so I was able to find out who had brought it along in the first place. Cheers deano! I'm still waiting to see if anybody logs in to say they ended up with my book. All in all, a great success. An original idea held in a public space, with added sound effects and enough bemused passers-by to look over and wonder what the hell was going on. And everyone left smiling (except, presumably, whoever was unfortunate to walk away with the Women's Tennis Association handbook 2001). The next mob's planned for October. I wonder if I'll have finished my new book by then. I'm 30 pages in, and it's already much better than the film...