Hollie Belton

Backstage Pass: Reading Goes Underground with CIW Speaker Hollie Belton

Chicago Ideas Week’s Books On The L started as an underground movement—literally.  The brainchild of CIW Speaker Hollie Belton, an art director at Leo Burnett, Books On The Underground began as a single book on a London train two years ago and has grown into a multinational movement. Books On The L, Books On The Subway and Books On The Metro are all fostering their own communities of book-loving commuters, and Belton—ever the creative—sees new opportunities for sharing her love of stories with her city.

Hollie Belton

Hollie Belton’s Books On The Underground has spawned a movement of books traveling on trains across the U.S., including Chicago’s Books On The L.

Why did you decide to start leaving Books On The Underground?

I started Books On The Underground mainly because when I changed jobs, I went from a 10-minute cycle to an hour’s commute.  Reading became an escape for me.  I’ve always loved reading and picking up new books.  It reignited that love that I have for reading.

I decided I wanted to leave a book on the Tube one day, but I didn’t want it to a lonely book left behind with no identifying thing about it, so I designed the sticker.  I started leaving my own books.  Now people e-mail me for stickers for their books, and I leave publishers’ and authors’ books.

The first individual who discovered a book, noticed the sticker and shared on social media?

The first person who found a book—I think I squealed out loud in the office. Everyone in the office asked, “What’s wrong?”  The tweet was so nice. It said [something like], “This is amazing.  It’s really cheered up my journey.  I needed a book to read.”

And have any of those books recirculated a few times?  Are people taking, reading and returning?

I have noticed a couple of books.  Actually recently, I noticed a book that I put on the tube as one of my first ever books two years ago.  The sticker was all bashed up.

What do you think of the programs that have sprung up since you first started?

I love that they’re starting.  Hopefully soon, more people will know about it and want to get involved.  And hopefully we’ll have it happening all over the place.

My newest idea is to get the stories of Londoners together and get them to share their stories.  I want to create an anthology of their stories and get it published and launch it on the tube for the commuters to read.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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