Clean out the books you don’t want in stranger-interactive ways

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Photo by thejester100. Used under Creative Commons license.

Once, on a layover in the Denver airport, a woman walked in front of me, tossed a book in the trash, and left. I was appalled. Who throws away books?! And what’s more, who makes a special trip to the trash can to throw away a book?! I dug the thing out (a Janet Evanovich novel) and read most of it on the trip home.

Photo by l.giordani. Used under Creative Commons license.
Eventually, that book ended up traveling to another reader via Paperback Swap, a website wherein members can post unwanted books and other members can request them. I just can’t abide tossing books — even pulpy things by Janet Evanovich. I was thinking about that book this week when I decided we should talk about options for unloved books. Or unneeded books. Or books you just finally admit you don’t care enough to read. My “Currently Reading” pile is like a dozen books deep right now so believe me — I know how books can get in the way in a house.

Paperback Swap

The aforementioned Paperback Swap is awesome. Members get a credit for each book mailed, good for requesting another free book. You only pay postage — unless you want to buy additional credits — so each book costs about $3. Paperback Swap has rigid rules about the condition of swapped books, so you’re getting stuff without damage, tears, or weird smells, and that’s nice.

Not all of the interface is super user-friendly, but adding and requesting books is. It’s a good place for people like me who tend to read too many books at a time — if a book isn’t immediately available, I still have a request out there waiting for it, so it’s out of my mind.

Learn more about Paperback Swap! If you’re already a PBS member, we can trade usernames in the comments and check each others’ bookshelves for titles we want.

Photo by shannon abigail simbulan. Used under Creative Commons license.


I’m a really, really big fan of leaving things for people to find — I don’t know how I haven’t gotten into geocaching yet. This site, Bookcrossing, is a mix of geocaching and Where’s George. Books are tagged and “released into the wild” — either left somewhere in the hopes a stranger will find, enjoy, and register the find on Bookcrossing, or mailed to a member with said book on their wishlist. I need to get IN on this!

Learn more about Bookcrossing.

Little Free Library

If you’re into books, giving shit away, and curating your community, Little Free Library might interest you. This is a non-profit that builds tiny libraries to go in front lawns, gardens, busy corners, shops, and hold books for anyone to take. Or space for anyone to leave a book. You can buy a LFL starting at $350, or build your own and, if you want to join the network, pay a membership fee of $50. There is little I love more than a library, and even when cities have fantastic public library systems (mine does!) it’s projects like this that can make reading REALLY exciting again.

Learn more about Little Free Libraries.

Of course, you can also donate books to Goodwill, and some libraries take them, too. I just think books should keep going until they’re done! How do you get rid of YOUR books?

Comments on Clean out the books you don’t want in stranger-interactive ways

  1. little free library? so cool!

    also, our library has a regular used book sale that is truly awesome. which is nice since we have zero used book stores.

    p.s. you may have a nonprofit around that keeps a topical library.

  2. Book Mooch is similar to what Paperback Swap sounds like: My problem with it is that I’ve sent out a bunch of books, but there are rarely books I’m interested available.

    But my friends and I do a book swap every few months. We get together with wine and food and our unwanted books. Everyone takes what they’re interested in, and we give the rest to the library.

    • Sadly, it’s been a Thing. I used to work at a now defunct Multimedia Store during and after college. Back in 2004 or so, when I started there, I once had to help the head of the book dept prep books for the dumpster. I was horrified, and it was clear a small part of her soul died a little every time she did it. I couldn’t believe it was being done – and I still fume thinking about it.

    • Wow. I felt bad enough throwing out 100 unwanted 2nd hand copies of Call of Duty for PS2 when I worked in a video game shop. I don’t think I could have done it to books.

      • My husband before I met him co-owned a bookstore with a gf. At the end of the month he’d take a box of books that he was supposed to throw away, tear the covers off, report them as too damaged, and donate the rest of the book to the women’s shelter.

  3. Our town has got its own “little free libraries”, they’re called “outdoor bookshelves”. In two locations there are shelves with glas doors where people can put books they don’t want anymore or take others home. And our part of town even has got a complete small room (3x4meters, I’d guess) filled with books. Every time I take books there, I end up taking (at least) as many home. ^^

  4. One of my pals just celebrated her 35th birthday by having friends donate 35 of her favorite books, which she wrapped in beautiful packages and gave away to 35 strangers.

    Sometimes I just post a book giveaway on Facebook, but I am totally building a Little Free Library!

  5. Some books are just not relevant anymore- I know my local Goodwill has shelves and shelves of books like “The Joy of Micro-Wave Cooking” and “MS DOS for Dummies” (LOL). But don’t toss them… These books are great for repurposing! There are so many DIY book projects on the ‘net like shelves, hide-away places, or collage/paper art.

    • I use these exact type of books (Microwaving Meats is one of my classics) for my blog that makes fun of gross recipes and retro cookbooks. They are great! And some of the artwork and photos in them are great framed if that’s your style.

      I find them at Out of The Closet or Goodwill, then scan, use and, if I haven’t destroyed them in the process, re-donate them.

  6. Awesome sites! I currently use a lot of books for trade in to get new books at a local used book store. My biggest problem is that I like to keep to many of them…

  7. Paperback Swap sounds like Goodreads Bookswap. There’s an area of Goodreads where you can request books or list them and send them to other members. All you pay for is the postage (usually only a few bucks) and after you send 10 out, you get one free!

  8. I want a little free library so much. I already run a library out of my room for my friends and family (seriously. It’s gotten so normalized that my mom gave me catalogue cards for my birthday) but I just want to keep sharing the book love!

  9. My kids’ playgroup hosts a book swap twice a year. Giving to the library is a great idea, too, because if they can’t use the book they can sell it to fund library programs. I also keep a running list of who I know might like different things on my bookshelf and bring the book with me when I visit them… it is easy to say “I have this book you would like” and never get around to passing it off. If you have it in the papery flesh, you’re a lot more likely to both get rid of it and ensure the other person reads it. I’ve been known to randomly give away books at any gathering at our house, too. Maybe people hate it, but I get really excited at an opportunity like, “How funny that you just mentioned X, here, have you read this?”

  10. A local artist acquaintance of mine nailed up a couple of shelves at some of the local train stations then wrote “FREE BOOKS” on them. Commuters pick up and leave books there regularly now and the shelf is never empty. When I have a pile to dispose of I take them there.

  11. I’m a bookdragon, I can never get rid of them. I even have trouble giving back library books, and I work there. And I’m fairly certain that throwing books away is a sin.

    My mum does this odd thing when she travels, which she calls reverse shoplifting. She’ll buy a cheap paperback before she leaves, and when she gets to the other end and has finished the book she’ll leave it on a shelf in the airport bookstore.

  12. I’m not sure if it’s true but I’ve been told that paperback books were originally invented to be cheap, disposable books. You were supposed to just read them and throw them away and people were kind of confused when other people insisted on keeping them. Comics too.

    To be honest how to get rid of books is not a problem I have often because I usually only buy things I’m sure I want, if I’m less sure I borrow it from the library first. But I still love the idea of book swaps (and I do have those “interesting” trivia books distant relatives insist on buying me). Anyone know if schemes like this exist in the UK?

  13. Check in with your local public library, too. If you’re in or near Portland, OR,the Multnomah County Library will take book donations of all kinds – most paperbacks in good condition become “bring ’em backs” that can be borrowed without having to be checked out (great for vacations or folks without library cards). The rest are donated to a local group that sells them to help fund extra library related functions, make up budget shortfall, and buy nice things for the staff on National Library Workers day!

    • My library has a paperback swap area. And the Friends of the Library has a little store and corner area for selling donated books. They also do a big sale once a month.

  14. I have friend, let’s call her A, that backpacked around Asia and Europe for about 3 years and told me that in most backpacker hostels yu’ll find a bookshelf filled with books in various languages that people have popped there when they’ve finished reading them/no longer have room for them. People write down their name and country of origin inside the front cver of their now unwanted book, pop it on the shelf, pick up another and continue along their merry way. I think it’s brilliant, not only are they free books, they’re free books with an extra bonus story of all the people who have read it previously! A told me she met a girl that dropped off a book in this manner in Rome, then found the same book again in Amsterdam a year later, her name still there, now joined by a dozen others. Brilliant!

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