Who says readers are anti-social? Book festivals, cons, and author events have increasingly made reading a social hobby and I love each one of them for enriching our community of readers in their own way. But by far and away my favorite IRL bookish activity (apart from reading of course!) is hosting and attending book swaps. Book swaps are basically a get together of readers where people bring books that they are looking to give away and think others might enjoy and in return might pick a book to take home. It is a great way to catch up with your bookish friends, and find a new home for some of your books, and a budget friendly way to pick up new books all rolled into one.
First: Choose a group of (bookish) friends
You’re more likely to have a great time if you start with a group of people that you already know are going to be into the idea of attending a book swap. I’ve been to a book swaps held at the beginning of book club meetings, with colleagues from work who also love to read, and at family dinners. It doesn’t have to be a large crowd, even 2-3 people can have a perfectly delightful book swap,but a sharted love of readings is a must.
Location, location, location
You can host a book swap pretty much anywhere. At a park, at a cafe or bar, or at your apartment. You can keep it casual or go all out depending on the size of the group, your budget and the amount of privacy and noise you are looking for. My friends and I usually take turns hosting, but parks are always a budget and family friendly option, while bars and cafes add the option of food which brings me to:
Snack it up!
Okay yes, it’s a book swap, you technically only need books and people to make it happen BUT while only books are 100% necessary to have a book swap, having food and drinks can turn a bookswap into a full-on book party. A variety of snacks and beverages (adult or otherwise, totally your choice) always help liven up the fun. You can potluck style it, or even got all out and host a themed dinner but chips and dips work just as well.
Bring the good stuff
In my experience the types of books that do well in book swaps are books that have gotten a lot of media attention like recent or past best sellers. That said, book swaps can also be a great way to introduce your friends to some hidden gems. I have been convinced more than once to pick up a book outside of my wheelhouse by a friend who has gushed about a book she had brought to the book swap that no one had heard of before, and I’m so glad I did. The best part? You know you already have someone to chat about the book with once you’re done!
Have a plan for leftovers
Ideally every book will find a new loving home at your book swap, but occasionally there can be stragglers, especially if you or one of your guests has recently decided to Marie Kondo their shelves recently or if you happen to end up with multiple copies of the same book. It never hurts to have a back up plan (unless you want to keep them all, in which case no judgement). Donating leftover books, become a book fairy and leave books for other in the subway or park, or stocking up your local Free Little Library are always great options.
I am admittedly a huge fan of cheesy themed parties, so I am all for seasonally themed book swaps. Why not have a romance book swap for Galentine’s Day or a Beach Reads swap in the summer? The genre/holiday possibilities are endless! But if you’re not as into seasonal decor as I am, you can also switch up the format. White Elephant and Blind Date variations are two of my personal favorites and work quite well at book swaps.
White Elephant style
This variation works best with larger groups and if there are a few anticipated titles or arcs that everyone is excited about. Guests are assigned a number at random. The first person gets to choose which book from the collective pile they would like to take home. The next person has the choice of either stealing the first person’s book or taking a new one from the pile and so on until everyone has a book. This has the potential to get heated!
Generally part of the fun is “hand selling” or talking about the books you brought and why you enjoyed them to your friends however you can add a bit of mystery to the book swap by asking your guests to wrap the books in wrapping paper and writing one of two plot points or readalikes on the paper.