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. My books are like my children, it causes me physical pain to give them away. D: When I moved in with my now hubby I had a serious collection going on and brought my set of shelves with me. He rearranged them all one day when I was out of the house and OMG I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO GO ON A MURDEROUS RAMPAGE! I felt violated. That’s what started a serious discussion of boundaries for us haha. Recently though I gave away quite a few books simply because we downsized and I had read them all at least twice, if not more, so I donated them to our library.

    I love all these sites you have reccomended already. I want to start a little library! I already loan out my books willingly. One of my elementary teachers taught me a lesson I still keep to this day, “Don’t destroy my books just because, although if they get a little worn out from you reading them, that is totally normal. Books need love.”

    🙂 I want to have a library of my own when I build my own house.

  2. This is so timely – I’m in the process of downsizing, and I have to find a way to get rid of over 200 books. Unfortunately some of them may not be suitable for the library (erotica mainly), so I will have to figure out something to do with them. Luckily I know the manager of the Friends of the Library bookstore here, so even if they can’t use them, he may know someplace that can.

    • Send the erotica to me. 😉
      Most of my books are erotica or more intense romance, so I don’t usually loan mine out unless I know the person isn’t going to keel over.

  3. A book I have somewhere has instructions for growing mushrooms in paperback novels. It’s tempting, but I don’t have any novels I’m willing to give up yet!

  4. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever worked in a bookstore, you know about throwing out paperbacks. I worked at a chain used bookstore and we’d go through more than one dumpster-full a week. We did recycle them, but oh it was a lot of books. After awhile, you get used to it, but I still cringe at thinking of hard-to-find ones just getting thrown out because someone didn’t know its significance.
    Even places like Barnes and Noble toss paperbacks. They don’t send them back to the publisher. They rip off the front cover and toss the rest.

    • My husband would rip the cover and then donate to a women’s shelter when he had a bookstore a long time ago.

      • I used to just steal them for myself. “Oh I’m just heading out to the bin!” Haha nope, now years later I still have a huge collection of yet-to-be-read books

  5. I’m a Bookcroser. In fact, I met my husband through Bookcrossing. Our local paper did a story about our relationship last year, while I was pregnant with our first baby, and just this past weekend I got a call from a total stranger asking questions about Bookcrossing zones.

  6. If your local library won’t take them, try any local university libraries. I used to work in the one at my university, and any books that we didn’t take in went to the book sale – which helped to fund the school and the library.

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