A Book Swap for the Bookish.

Add this to the list of things you can’t do with an ebook - have fun at a book swap. If you’re tired of looking at the same spines that have entertained you over the past few years, it’s time to spice up your reading life by swinging into a swap. Luckily, the bookish Bay Area offers several options to keep your bookshelves fresh, so read on for ideas on how to spring clean your personal library. 

The independent Booksmith is an intellectual beacon on the otherwise hedonistic Haight Street, and they host book swaps every other month on the first Friday evening. For $25, you get dinner, an unending flow of wine and beer, and hours of conversation about books. One recent Friday, I slapped on my nametag and ventured into the chattering group prepared to give a tongue-in-cheek response about my book’s relation to the swap’s theme of “Home.” Instead, the sincerity of everyone’s articulate and impassioned descriptions of their books evaporated my cynicism. Tangents were explored, authors’ careers dissected, childhood memories shared, the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy discussed. The master ringleader, Amy, kept us moving from table to table and orchestrated the white elephant book grab at the end where we selected from the book pile or stole from those who had already made their selections.

A Booksmith regular told me she’s enjoyed watching it evolve over the years. “It used to feel a lot like speed dating,” she said. “But now it’s become civilized,” waving her arm to indicate the six tables where people devoured the cheese, crackers, sliders and kabobs set in front of us. (Amy later ordered pizzas after she noted our locust-like tendencies.) The wine and beer flowed freely, and the room filled with the buzz of forty people discussing literature, sci-fi, biography, poetry, young adult adventure. One woman admitted that it’d been nearly a year since she read a book. Another explains the value of the swap, “You clean out your bookshelf!”

Each Booksmith swap features a guest author who fully participates in the revelry, and we were graced by poet D.A. Powell, who admitted the “first poem I ever wrote was probably about dead bodies.” After a brief Q&A, Powell re-entered the fray and did his share of maneuvering during the white elephant exchange. Overall, it was a convivial atmosphere of people geeking out about books and sharing their own stories. A participant confessed her feelings about the swap, “It’s such a revelation. I didn’t expect to have fun.” At the end, Booksmith gave us free advance copies or overstock items they didn’t have room for on their shelves, so I left with my swapped book along with a few new books and a 20% discount on future Booksmith purchases.

Another swap occurs across town on a near-monthly basis at the Library Bar in Hotel Rex. What is it about reading and drinking that makes for a great combination? This is another booze and books event, although less structured than Booksmith’s entertainment. Think cocktail hour and networking with other bookish people. 

If you’d prefer to conduct your book swap in a quieter setting, the Reading Room at Berkeley Art Museum is an art exhibit through August 2013 showcasing titles from local small presses available for swapping; take a book as long as you replace it eventually with one of your favorites. You won’t find any best-sellers here, but there are many gorgeous handmade and small-batch crafted books you won’t find anywhere else.

On weekends, El Cerrito hosts the Bay Area Free Book Exchange where you can take home up to one hundred books per day. Donated books are separated into those the organization can sell online to fund rent and utilities, with the remaining books shelved and available for the taking. 

Whatever your flavor of swap, you have no excuse to not put great books you’ll never read again back into circulation, while grabbing a few new titles to try. Books are meant to be read and shared and discussed. So get swapping!

FIVE THôT columnist Laura Zander is a book nerd on a perpetual quest to satiate her curiosity and observe the magic of juxtapositions. A veteran of the tech world, she's widely acknowledged as a product, marketing, and operations guru. You can read her other articles on FIVE THôT here, and follow her reading life at loudlatinlaughing.com or @lz 

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