A Hundred Butterflies Start A Hundred Hurricanes

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Words by Billie Jenkins Image and Random Act of Kindness Michael Byrne

Yesterday a wonderful thing was brought to my attention. After assessing his library a friend realised that despite the most sincere intentions he had only read only about 40% of the books, and would probably never read 20% of them at any stage of his life. Rather than lug a bin bag to the local Oxfam or sending them to be recycled or using them to start the summer bbq he made a decision to start slowly giving parts of his collection away. In the cover of John Steinbeck’s The Long Valley he wrote:

‘Dear Stranger,

I’ve had this book for years and just got round to reading it. It’s quite good, short stories, so you can dip into it as you please, skip over parts you find tedious and read it without the commitment that a novel requires. My recommendations are on the chapter page. When your done with this book, pass it along to a friend or leave to somewhere. If you don’t your a dick!’

I guess I’m repeating this small act of kindness because it touches on something bigger than the act itself. Recently I read about Brendan Leonard’s self publishing success, in which he planted his own books on Barnes and noble shelves, deeming the reception of his work far more important than any monetary gains. The campaign has led to him selling over 3,000 of his books, through the bookshop itself and off the back of the publicity  it garnered (much of the revenue falling to to the unwitting Barnes and Nobles themselves). Bookcrossing is an online ‘club’ which encourages members to find and leave literature in public, offering the opportunity to track their progress as they travel across communities and continents. When it began in 2001 it received an enormous amount of hype, spawning cutesy, supplement type articles in all the national newspapers. Thirteen years later the buzz around the site has died down, but it remains stronger than ever despite the quiet; with nearly 2,000,000 members and 10,000,000 books registered.

The dissemination of literature has always been something that has captured our imaginations, and each small act of giving away a text has the potential to bring something more to the recipient, be it a smile at a handwritten introduction or the discovery of a life-changing novel we would never have considered. It struck me as a lovely coincidence that yesterdays find came in the same week we decided to tagline our exhibition for Camberwell Arts Festival ‘A Hundred Butterflies Start A Hundred Hurricanes’. We felt this communicated our choice to build a community library, because like the famous phrase ‘if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, it can cause a tornado in Texas’, a book can be the change that starts a new perspective and a new journey.

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