Book Swap

I recently attended a book swap hosted by some friends. A book swap is exactly what it sounds like: you get together with a bunch of people and exchange books. A book swap is a sort of literary stone soup. Everyone who attends adds a little something, and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. It's surprisingly fun and very interesting to see what gems people dig up.

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:

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Get a large quantity of alcohol or the socializing drug of your choice, or recommend BYOB. This will help people mix and swap books.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.