Book Swapping

You know that adage one person’s junk is another person’s treasure? That doesn’t seem to apply on book swapping sites.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of book swapping is a interesting one. You get rid of something you don’t want in return for something someone else doesn’t want. In theory, it can help cut down on book costs and shelving issues. Plus, it makes you feel as if you’re doing a good deed. But when you have specific tastes, book swapping is the equivalent of visiting your favourite store and finding they only stock xmas sweaters and fluorescent ankle socks.

On (a UK site) the swap is conducted between two people. But before you get to the good stuff, you first have to browse through various lists (kind of like Internet dating) to establish book compatibility. Once you see something you want, you send the person a request and hope they find something on your list. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, you get rejected, even if you happen to have a book they want, which stings, because rejection always hurts, even on a book swapping site. Plus what’s wrong with your reading list anyway? As you see, it can get pretty personal.

On Bookmooch you don’t have to swap with the same person. You accumulate points and are free pick from a large number of book donors. You can give away your book to person A while receiving a book from person D.  The problem is that you may still not find anything worthwhile to mooch. Also, if a reader happens to have the book you want and they are located in Canada or Chile, they may opt not to send their books to wherever you live. Postal costs can be an issue if the only person interested in your copy of The Historian, is living in Tasmania.

I don’t know about you, but when I love a book I tend to hang on to it. On the other hand, imagine the endless lists of unwanted Dan Browns? Disposable contemporary lit is the book equivalent of soda cans and diapers piling high into the sky. Only cockroaches and the Da Vinci Code will survive the end of the days. In the rare case that someone lists a Georges Perec or Thomas Pynchon novel, hundreds of expectant hopefuls are waiting to swoop down and poke each other’s eyes out for it. And then you have to hope it is in readable condition.

I tend to give away impulse buys, books that are almost new, despite their unloved status. In return, I’ve received novels stained with food and indeterminate substances. Books with cracked bindings smelling of mildew, cat piss, and smoke. Basically, if the cover and most of the pages are still attached, people tend to list their books in good condition, even if its falling apart They should have a category for ‘sorry-ass’ books – or maybe just sorry-ass swappers.

Overall, depending on the size of book, where you send it, how you wrap it and whether you want it to arrive in a few days or shortly before Xmas, the cost of swapping is sometimes more than what it costs to get a half dozen gently used reads on Abebooks or Amazon Marketplace. So why should I bother sending my babies around the world only to receive torn dirty books I didn’t want in the first place? And if you think swapping qualifies as green, think again. There is so much paper sed to wrap up these bad reads. For the money, charity shops tend to carry the same things  you’ll find on swap sites and far cheaper. At least you can see what you’re getting and you don’t have to wait in queues behind cranky pensioners.

Despite all this you should give swapping a try if only for the experience. Who knows, you might get lucky.

Just a word of advice. Spending all that time with books and readers with whom you have nothing in common only reinforces the idea that the world does not understand you. Your giveaway list may be crap, sure, but  even your unwanted books are a 100x better than most people’s. Life is too short to feel malice toward strangers trying to offload copies of Shadow of the Wind.


  1. It had never occurred to me to look at book swap sites but you’ve put me off. There are few books I can part with anyway – even some of the bad ones have a place on my shelves and those that don’t go to charity shops. Besides, I hate trips to the post office. Better to swap lists of favourite reads than actual books of the rejected ones. I’m really enjoying the books you and the others were recommending on retreat – and most of them I got for 1p second-hand on Amazon:-)

  2. Hey Fran, there are book swap parties where you go meet friends, have drinks, and everyone brings along a few books to giveaway. That’s a much better solution, I think. There are also lists between people you know, in case something you don’t like works for someone else. I like the idea of swapping favourite reads – at least you are giving something of worth instead of junk. Having finished rereading The Lover, I’m ready to let it go to a new home. I gave away Hotel du Lac to a dear, wonderful friend. I loved it though. Btw, I had no problem giving away that awful potato book. Figures.

  3. Fran

    Yep, I gave potato peel to the bookbox at work – sorry guys. There are far worse novels I’ve held onto though because at least they initiated a strong reaction. It’s the non-event ones that are the worst. I’m impressed you can part with the good ones. I can loan but I just can’t give when it comes to books – unless I buy someone their own copy. I’m too clingy.

  4. I like the idea of the parties too… I can’t see myself getting organised and posting books in an exchange. It’s not like they’re solid gold. I mean … it’s a BOOK. I’d rather give them to a charity shop or village jumble sale.

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