Book swaps proposed for Tube: A new, exciting way to catch swine flu

In a turn of events that many (well, some. A couple. I.) already consider a Christmas miracle, left-leaning broadsheet The Guardian and Tory London mayor Boris Johnson appear to have found some common ground. Mere months after the Grauniad launched its own hobo-friendly, lit(t)eracy-encouraging scheme comes news that Johnson is willing to consider implementing officially sanctioned book swapping networks at London Underground stations in advance of the 2012 Olympics, thereby dramatically increasing opportunities for the average Londoner to pick up hideous communicable diseases from the discarded property of strangers, and maybe a copy of The Girl Who Played With Fire while they’re at it.

Overlooking the Tube’s standing as a pox-riddled death tube straight out of a hypochondriac’s nightmare where the best strategy for survival is to touch as little that has been touched by anyone else as possible – one where it’s easier simply to coat yourself in Mylar pre-emptively rather than disinfect afterwards – Johnson has rakishly thrown caution to the wind and hailed the idea as ‘fantastic’.

Said fantastic idea comes from Bookcrossing one Chris Gilson, political researcher at the London School of Economics and winner of the Twitter-based initiative Ideas4Mayor, in which Londoners tweeted suggestions for how to improve city life. Johnson suggested that making Gilson’s idea a reality before the arrival of next year’s Olympics ‘would say something powerful about the kind of city we are and our commitment to literacy, which obviously we are trying to demonstrate in lots of ways’.

Johnson’s one caveat: ‘provided it doesn’t cost a penny to the taxpayer’. Under the regime of Johnson’s party peers, that line of thought has certainly said something powerful about their commitment to literacy, but probably isn’t quite what the mayor had in mind. So, basically, all of this is going to come to fruition as soon as Londoners are willing to give of their time, energy and property for the betterment of their fellow commuters, absolutely free of charge. Somebody let me know the second that that happens. I should be easy enough to find, I’ll have just brokered peace between Israel and Palestine.


  1. Just spotted your article – thanks Chris! We’ve already got 20 people across the city interested in helping out running Book Swaps, and we’re hoping for more volunteers in the new year. Maybe it could work on the Glasgow Metro too? 🙂

    All the best,

    Chris Gilson

    1. It’s a nice thought, fellow Chris, but I fear the Glasgow underground (such as it is – two whole lines! An inner AND outer circle! Watch your back London, we’re coming for you!) might prove an even tougher sell to volunteers than the tube. If anyone fancies setting up shop in Ibrox, I am happy to be proven wrong.

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