How to Host a Book Swap

pile of books
Are your books taking over? It's time to clean house.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

If you love the written word, you probably have a stash of books somewhere in your home. They might be jacketed and crammed into a bookcase or stacked in piles next to your favorite chair. It's a pretty good bet you have an eclectic mix of interests represented in those bound pages, too. A couple of biographies may be sharing space with the latest historical bodice-ripper or thriller (that guilty pleasure that kept you up reading through the wee hours of the morning).

To round out your reading life, you may have a few lifelong learning topics on hand, like a poetry collection, the latest easy-reading explanation of the big bang theory or a history of the French Revolution. And don't forget those how-to books, like the ones with the yellow and black covers that helped you stop the leak in the bathroom faucet and taught you the difference between a PVC and PCP. Oh, and if you like to peruse the book review section of the paper, you may even have a shelf dedicated to books you're planning on reading the next time you head out to the beach for a long weekend -- or when you have insomnia (and a touch of acid reflux) because that mini-vacation is too long in coming.


Those books say a lot about your world, about your culture and about you. There's always a new book around to capture your interest -- thank goodness. You can read that book at breakneck speed or take it tantalizingly slow. Read at the dentist's office, on the unemployment line or in the bathtub. The relationship between you and the author can be as intimate, profound, funny or outrageous as you want. You're the one making the emotional investment.

Books are a banquet, and when it comes to luscious descriptions and delicious dialogue, nothing beats sharing the wealth with a friend -- or lots of friends. That's where a book swap can make your reading life richer. Sure, you'll net a few more fun books to read, but you'll also be able to share your favorites with people who also think a great book is a moveable feast. If you never quite warmed up to the topic of sheep shearing, that's not a problem. One of your friends may be into wool in a big way and take that Australian ranching memoir off your hands.

If you're becoming alarmed at the price of new books, holding the occasional book swap can help keep your book budget out of the stratosphere. Everybody wins, and you can postpone the decision to convert to electronic media for your reading fix.


Ideas for Hosting a Book Swap

You know that for a book swap to work you need books and a group of book loving folks who don't mind expanding their literary horizons. The idea is pretty simple: Guests bring books to share, and the accumulated books are then redistributed to new owners. The details can get dicey, though, especially if you've never held (or attended) a book swap before. These tips will get you going:

Send out invitations. This may not be a wedding, but sending out a formal announcement is polite and practical. Include the date, time and duration. A 2 to 3 hour party gives everyone a chance to greet the host, exchange books, participate in some lively conversation and leave happy. Include an address (of course), phone number and a map to the location. You might also want to request an RSVP and stipulate that guests bring a minimum number of books to share. Three books is pretty standard. If you want extras around, don't set a maximum. Some people have boxes of books they want to find homes for. You can always donate any leftovers to a local charity. It's also a good idea to ask guests to limit their selections to the number of books they brought -- say three or four, unless you plan on having lots of extras.


Provide plenty of horizontal real estate. To make navigating the offerings easier, having one, two or even three tables set up is a good idea. Some people use one large dining table and start stacking books when they run out of space. A couple of folding tables can take care of the problem and offer people a chance to ponder their selections without having to juggle piles of books while they're doing it.

Organize books by category. Your friends will have varied interests, and the books they bring may surprise you. Discovering something about the people you know is part of the fun. Once you discover that Marcie likes to read romances, make sure other romance junkies in the crowd can find Marcie's stash by placing her books in a tabletop section set aside for romance novels, or mystery novels, or biographies. The easiest way to do this is to label sections on the table for specific types of books, and hand out a brief set of instructions when people arrive asking them to play librarian and place their books in the most appropriate category. You can also sort books alphabetically, but this might be a little too efficient for some.

Keep the refreshments simple. One of the objects of a book swap is to chat about books. To make this easier, serve finger food that's easy to consume in a bite or two.

Maintain wide aisles. Like the end caps at the grocery store during sale day, aisle space is important when there are numbers of people milling around. The area around the book table will be crowded, so rearrange your furnishings to accommodate browsers who are reading as well as amblers moving from section to section. There'll be less apologizing and more smiling.

Move from prep to swap in two steps. Encourage guests to wait until all the books are in place before browsing. You can suggest this on the invitation or include it on your list of instructions. It's only fair to allow everyone a shot at the latest bestsellers.

Prepare for go-backs. The flurry of activity at the beginning of the swap may have a few guests grabbing books they soon decide don't quite fit their reading schedules for the immediate future. This means that some exchanges during the proceedings are inevitable. This is great news because it means people are really interested in making useful choices. Keep the beverages coming, and make sure guests have a comfy place to sit and take a second (or third) look at their choices.

Make it a party. If your parties usually fizzle because there isn't much lively conversation to buoy them up, a book swap makes a good foundation for a get-together. There's plenty of palaver potential, and everyone goes away with a little present -- without you having to put together goodie bags. When you're in the planning stages, think party and you'll be one step ahead of the game. Offer food and refreshments, and create some good vibrations with a little background music. Have an area set aside for coats and bags, and make sure you have plenty of ice, cups and other party fare.

Take it outside. Sure, the local library is tucked away in a building with towering shelves, but your book swap can be much less structured -- and stuffy. The solution: Take the swap outside in the backyard. Order a warm, sunny day, add some tables and chairs, and it's the perfect setting. At the very least, no one will complain about the lighting.


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