Sequim man seeks to start new tradition

Ryan Smith, of Sequim, signs his name inside the cover of “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, the third book gifted as part of a book exchange he began earlier this month in Sequim.

Ryan Smith and Sean Saffold, both of Sequim, sat inside Applebee’s restaurant Sept. 9 discussing their travels in Asia and things they read when their typical sharing of books turned into something more.


Saffold gave Smith a tract his father had given him and Smith decided to take it one step further.

“We ought to put your name in it and when I read it, I’ll put mine and I can give it to someone when I go to Hoquiam,” Smith recalls saying.


Conversely, Smith signed his name in Thomas Cahill’s “The Gifts of the Jews,” gave it to Saffold and instructed Saffold to do the same before gifting the book to someone else.


The two developed the idea of a worldwide book exchange web of sorts, where books would be read, signed with the reader’s name and location, then gifted to someone else who would do the same, Smith said.


The books can be any kind: Fiction, history, art, politics. They can be gifted to anyone: Friends, family or even strangers. Just read, sign and pass it on.


“Instead of collecting dust, you’re giving that book the chance to really spark someone’s imagination,” Smith said.


An avid reader and 1988 graduate of Sequim Bible Christian School, Smith estimates he carried more than 800 books into China during the seven and a half years he spent teaching there. He said he bought a large portion of those books from Friends of the Library sales.


“I think we should be giving away three things: love, kindness and knowledge,” he said. “Books can do that.”


A book exchange where used books are gifted freely between friends and strangers also can provide people the opportunity to learn about or discover a passion for a subject they normally would not have encountered, he said.


Sharing books can cause people to realize they have a common interest, when maybe they were at odds with each other, he said.


“If we take the focus off where people mostly disagree and focus our energy and minds on where we can agree, we can encourage the lives around us,” he said. “I think books can help us do that.”


Saffold left later that to do missions and human rights work in Southeast Asia, taking with him the book he will give to someone with whom he crosses paths, Smith said.


Smith gave a third book, “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, to a Sequim woman Thursday. He said he plans to regularly gift books and hopes others will join.


“Just do it 21 times and see if it turns into something,” he said.


Reach Amanda Winters at


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