Rain or shine, Gail Conway spends her free time hiding books around Longview.
She got the idea from a Belgian English teacher who created a scavenger hunt for books after a mobile phone game called Pokemon Go broke records with its popularity last summer and got people outside searching for digital creatures.
Last August, Conway brought the scavenger hunt to Longview.
“What I like is that people will get outdoors and move around,” Conway said. “And then they can enjoy the outdoors while looking for books.”
The premise is simple: Put a book in a plastic bag, hide it somewhere around town and then post a picture or clue in the Facebook group. Whoever figures out the clue, or just finds the book, then can bring it home with them to enjoy.
Conway said she kept the original name Chasseurs de Livres, which means “book hunters” in French, in order to maintain a connection with the original group in Belgium. It’s pronounced “shah-SURE day LEAVE-rah.”
There are hundreds of similar groups around the world, but Conway says Longview may have been one of the first ones stateside. There are currently about 150 local members, all hiding and finding books.
On a drizzly Saturday, Conway hid ziplocked books under auburn leaves, in tree nooks and by statues. Then she snapped pictures of them with slivers of their surroundings for Facebook members to decipher.
But Conway also hopes that those who aren’t members of the Facebook group will discover the books as well.
“Sometimes I put them in more obvious places because I want people to just happen upon them,” she said. “Other times I put it where no one will look and then I post a photo with a clue. And somehow they always find it.”
Inside the book is a note explaining the nature of the group and inviting the finder to join Chasseurs de Livres Longview WA on Facebook. They are encouraged to enjoy the book and then hide it again for the next reader, but they can also just keep it.
Conway estimated that the group has distributed at least 100 books in the year that it has been around. She personally has about 30 books sitting in her home right now, waiting to be hidden.
Most of the books come from the used section of Powell’s Books in Portland, but Conway said she has spent up to $15 for just one.
“I scout for nice books. I don’t just take old discards that no one wants,” she said.
In addition, she reads or skims every book before hiding them in order to screen the content.
“I don’t put anything out that’s too controversial,” Conway said. “There’s so many good books out there, and I want to make sure anyone can enjoy (them).”
The group hides books for all ages and interests. With two grown children in their 20s, Conway said she has enjoyed the excuse to read children’s books again.
Hiding books can be time consuming for Conway, who is a physician, but she said that books are “treasures” and should be shared.
“When someone finds a book, I hope they feel the sudden joy of someone leaving them a present,” Conway said. “You can sit down, enjoy the book and then pass it on to someone else. … It’s anonymously sharing things that you think are beautiful.”