1 book for me, 1 book for the next customer

In the Neapolitan tradition of the Caffe Sospeso, or Suspended Coffee, Italians have now embraced a concept of Libro Sospeso - buying one book and offering a second one as an anonymous gift.

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"When a person in Naples is happy for whatever reason, instead of paying for just one coffee... he pays for two. One for him, and one for the next person who comes into the bar. It's like offering a coffee to the rest of the world."

That's how Neapolitan writer Luciano De Crescenzo's book Il Caffe Sospeso described leaving a "pending" or "suspended" coffee, a custom born during World War II.

This spring, when a few booksellers tried the idea with books, it became a national phenomenon.

Customers in bookshops up and down the Italian peninsula can buy a book for themselves, then purchase another one for the next person who comes in, writing a dedication on a Post-it note.

The trend started at Polla bookstore Ex Libris Cafe, founded by Mr Michele Gentile in 1985. "People see Libro Sospeso as a generous gesture, and it is. But my purpose was to draw attention to a real problem," he said.

He focused the initiative on children, since reading habits start early. His idea was picked up in the local media, and spread to other bookstores in the south.

The idea has also spread to other objects. Bakeries in Parma, Trieste, Naples, Padova and Brescia are letting customers leave loaves of bread for the next customer.