The books you'll find at a book swap will run the gamut from campy to classic. You can tell some books are there because people just wanted to get rid of them. But others are clearly important to their owners, who've contributed them to pass them on to someone else. These are the best books.
My girlfriend and I didn't really know what to expect from the book swap. We didn't know how many to bring, so we emptied our shelves of books we didn't want or wanted to give away, ending up with 14 books. Some were worthwhile (like A Clockwork Orange and Pillars of the Earth) and others were not.
We were a bit early, but after a while the people (and books) started pouring in. People milled around the table, checking out the recent additions and browsing for books. Amusingly, four pairs of books were duplicates, brought by different people (The Outsider, One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Pillars of the Earth, and Memoirs of Geisha). After a while, people started claiming their choices and contributors tried to pawn off the books they'd brought.
At the end of the night, we ended up with 16 new books:
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- American Capitalism by John Kenneth Galbraith
- The Theory of Peasant Economy by A. V. Chayanov
- Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
- Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat by Morris Dees
- Voyage of the Damned by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles
- Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
- Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
- Chocolate Jesus by Stephan Jaramillo
- The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
- The Outsider by Richard Wright
- Children of the Revolution: a Yankee Teacher in the Cuban Schools by Jonathan Kozol
- Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family by Lillian Breslow Rubin
- The Destruction of the Temple by Barry Malzberg
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
How to host a book swap
As you can see, a book swap is a fun and cheap way to get some new books to read. Here's how you can host your own:
- Pick a time and place and send out invitations. To reach critical mass, you need to have people there who don't know each other, so invite a lot of people. Mention the minimum number of books attendees should bring. Three is a good number (at our book swap the number of books people actually brought ranged from 0 to 24 books).
- Get a large quantity of alcohol or the socializing drug of your choice, or recommend BYOB. This will help people mix and swap books.
- Clear off a large flat surface to put the books on. Your table will work nicely, but you'll find it's probably not big enough (the table at our book swap was stacked 3 books deep). Make sure there's plenty of standing room around the table for browsers.
- Wait for people to arrive and deposit their books. Have a few beers and check out the selection. After everyone has had a chance to look at the books, start grabbing 'em. Each person should only take as many books as they contributed.
- Sit back and enjoy!
At the end of the night, you'll probably end up with quite a few books that nobody has claimed. These books are fair game for anyone who wants to take them home, even if they've already taken their share. After that, you'll probably still have extra books. I recommend donating these books to your local library, Good Will, or a book charity like Baltimore's Book Thing.