Book Cycle: Superheroes of the Literary Community

Exeter is a wonderful place to study: it’s a beautiful city with plenty of history, an ever-expanding shopping centre and only a 15 minute train ride to some of Devon’s most glorious coastline. Exeter is quirky, small enough so you always feel safe and able to go most places on foot but large enough that even after three years of living here, I’m still discovering new places to go every week. This week I discovered Book Cycle, and I only wish I’d discovered it sooner!

Think of Book Cycle as the superheroes of the literary community, trying to save the Earth one book at a time! A UK volunteer-based charity, Book Cycle aim to empower communities in developing countries through the provision of educational resources, as well as encouraging the reforestation of the UK, achieved through their unique and, frankly, fabulous ‘free bookstores’. No, there’s no need to adjust your screen, you read that correctly – in an age where everything has a non-negotiable price, Book Cycle actually do run free bookstores.

Started in May 2007, The Book Cycle store works on donations – all the stock is donated by enthusiastic volunteers and members of the community, replenished regularly, and when it comes to picking up something new to read you can donate as much or as little as you wish, whatever you feel the books are worth to you. You can choose three books a day and once you’ve left the store, they’re yours with no need to return them; indeed, Book Cycle recommends once you’ve read them, you ought to pass them on to a friend, spreading a love of literature wider and in-keeping with the Book Cycle ethos. After taking a small percentage to cover running costs, all the donations, as well as plenty of free books, are sent to charities working in developing countries, providing much needed relief and support.

Book Cycle intrigued me, and after a little bit of googling, I found that they aren’t the only literary-loving folks who want to play their part in making the world a better place. There are all kinds of book-based charities one can get involved in across the UK and internationally. Bag Books, for example, prides itself on being the only organisation in the world publishing multi-sensory books specifically for people with learning disabilities, with over 35 tactile books reaching 15,000 adults and children a year. On the other hand, The National Literary Trust works to transform lives through literacy, helping those who struggle to read and supporting those who work with them, whilst Readathon runs the UK’s biggest sponsored reading campaign, stimulating focus in recreational reading as well as raising money for seriously ill children.

With December now upon us, it’s important to remember that Christmas is also a time for giving. Thanks to the World Wide Web, it’s easy to donate to these literary charities and get involved in a good cause. Or, if you want to take more affirmative action, why not follow Book Cycle’s excellent example and set up a free bookstore in your community, even if it’s just for a day. They offer a ‘how to run your own mini book cycle’ guide, which not only gives you plenty of tips and tricks, but also access to a whole wealth of posters, pamphlets and letters to help advertise your campaign: you too can be a literary superhero, even if it’s just for a day.