Monday, December 28, 2009

Swapping used books is a win-win situation

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel December 27, 2009)

I've jump-started my New Year's resolutions by joining an online book-swapping site called For years I've been meaning to do something with all the books our family has accumulated. Hundreds of hardcover and paperback novels and nonfiction books fill our assorted bookshelves. The overflow titles are precariously stacked on the floor or tucked away in boxes in the attic.

It's not that we don't like books — it's that we like them too much. Although Ralph and I find it difficult to part with even the most esoteric titles, there comes a time when enough is enough. You look at the untidy mess of dust-catching tomes and ask yourself why you still have every book you've ever owned. Why, for example, do I have two copies of Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi? How much longer need I hold on to Edinburgh City Guide now that my daughter has been back from Scotland for seven years?

Accumulation is easy. Getting rid of stuff … not so easy. But that's about to change now that I've discovered a win-win way to merge my love of books with my need to purge.

At, readers like me can offer books for trade, search for titles they'd like to receive and do it all from their computers. There's no membership fee, and you just pay postage ($2.38 for most paperbacks) on books you send to others. For every book sent, you earn one point. Points can be used to "buy" other books (one point equals one book), accumulated to buy audiobooks (two points for each audio book) or donated to charitable causes such as Books for Schools, which provides eligible elementary schools with one new book for every point donated.

Before joining, I did my homework. I spent several hours researching other book exchange sites, read user reviews and watched the how-to videos offered by some of the top sites. received consistently good user ratings, and I found it to be the easiest-to-navigate, best-designed site of the batch. Its book selection is also impressive, with more than 4 million books available to trade.

In the two weeks since I joined the club, I've posted 35 books and I've sent four to people who have requested them. makes the mailing process simple. When someone wants one of my books, I receive an e-mail from the Web site notifying me of the request. If I agree to send the book, creates a mailing label that doubles as a wrapper. All I have to do is print the label, add stamps and put it in the mailbox. Postage is pre-calculated, so I don't have to go to the post office and stand in line.

Trying to reduce the amount of unnecessary items we have around the house is a worthwhile goal. I'll be overjoyed if someday the bookshelves that line our walls contain only books I really want to own instead of the hodgepodge of miscellany they currently hold. It would also be nice to have a few audiobooks to enjoy and copies of some of my favorite titles to give as gifts and to share with my children and grandchildren.

Although New Year's resolutions often start out strong before fading away, I doubt if that will be the case with my book-swapping plans. I have far more than 35 books to post, and I look forward to adding titles as the months go by. I'm also excited to think that the books I post will be going to people who are happy to receive them. Thanks to the virtual library at, I have entered a new world filled with reading pleasure. If that's not motivation for a successful New Year's resolution, I don't know what is.

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