When was the last time you saw Mark Twain on the Q train? Or Faulkner on the F? If you've noticed that great literature has lost out to throw-away tabloid news on the subways beneath Manhattan, you're not alone. Buku Sarkar has noticed too, and she's determined to bring the classics back to the New York City commute.
Sarkar has begun Choose What You Read NY, an organization that collects old books and distributes them - free - in subway stations on the first Tuesday of every month.
With nothing more than a folding table and a sign reading, "Free Books for your Commute" she has led a project that is part recycling effort, part recession relief, part literacy campaign, and all heart.
In the model of a similar London-based organization, Sarkar and a few other volunteers braved the sweltering stuffiness of subterranean Union Square for their inaugural effort last month.
"Literally within minutes of us setting up there were swarms of people around us," she said. "People were skeptical at first, which New Yorkers always are." But in just an hour, the group had distributed all 130 of the books they brought.
There's no price tag on the books Sarkar distributes, but each bears a small green sticker with the organization's logo. She hopes that commuters will read the book, then return it to the organization so it can be distributed again.
"In the long run, the idea is that the same book keeps on changing hands," she said, "Do I expect it to happen? I hope so. I hope that within the first year it will catch on"
The organization is in its infancy now. For the first distribution in July, most of the books were collected from family and friends and most of the volunteers were like-minded people she knew.
"It's all young people who are just doing this because they really want to help and they like books," she said.
Since then, Choose What You Read NY has expanded to collect books at three donation sites in Manhattan and Sarkar has been soliciting donations and volunteers on Craigslist. She hopes to secure nonprofit status soon, with the help of a pro bono accountant, and continue to grow the organization.
"I'm waiting for someone to come to me and tell me, 'You know what? I never really used to read books, but now, thanks to you, I read,' "Sarkar said. "That would touch my heart and make me really proud."
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