A stack of books stands as sentinel at my bedside. My husband’s side towers equally high. My daughter’s bedroom…. well, let’s just say that she got a double dose of the book-loving gene and her shelves are packed.


            In my twenties and thirties I moved so much that my belongings were forced through a regular winnowing process. You can only pack so many books before you start giving them away to your college roommate, whose father arrived with a pickup truck, or that neighbor who had his own “Free Lending Library” before it became fashionable. Though I kept the ones that were close to my heart, I have given away or sold most of the books I have ever owned mainly because I had to.

            Now I have been in the same house for more than twenty years. My family has read thousands of books in that time, many of which we’ve owned. We’ve been in the same book club for two decades. Our friends and family have written books that we want to read. But I haven’t built a personal book annex to store all these precious things, and no time to reread them if I did store them.


            What to do?

            Here’s what I do: I belong to Paperback Swap. It is a combination swap meet (in the true sense of the word) and buddy-book-exchange. It is a winning combination of celebrating the love of reading and making way for future books to adore.


            What is Paperback Swap?

            It is a huge, revolving list of books that are mailed from the home of one reader to another. (At this moment, there are 4,580,492 books available to swap).

            It is a low-cost way to obtain books you really want to read, or need to own. I got my high school-age daughter’s five required summer books this year through trade.

            It is a way to share books you’ve loved but don’t need to keep.

            How does it work?

            First, you register. You need a valid email, a valid USPS mailing address, and books you want to swap. You’ll put a little money in your account—via Paypal or a credit card. Then, you enter the ISBN numbers of the books you want to swap. You’ll get a couple of free credits for listing your first ten books, and you can request two books with those credits. Just browse in the “library” for books that interest you (or leave a request, and when that book is available somewhere, you’ll get a note). When you find books you want, simply click to order, and the member will send them to you, postage paid. You can keep them forever or swap them again after reading them.

            When members request books from you, you’ll get an email and note in your inbox. When you accept the request, you can preprint the book mailer at home, wrap it around the book, and send it off without going to the post office. The postage on the mailer is deducted from your account. You don’t need an envelope or anything special. When the member receives the book, you get a credit for another free book! All books are guaranteed to be in good condition, with covers and no excessive wear. Most that I have received have been in nearly new condition.

            I think of Paperback Swap as an enormous river of books that I can add to or dip into as desired. And what is better than a moving supply of books?

            Give it a try!