Along with selling a whole bunch of games, I’ve started addressing the problem of my overflowing bookshelves. Granted, I only have two bookshelves, but I’m not really at a stage in life now where I have the space to keep hundreds of books. A couple of weeks ago, it was getting so bad that I had practically nowhere to put new books – and that would’ve been disastrous, since I define part of my existence as constantly buying new books. The only option was to get rid of some books; a drastic action, but a necessary one.

Two routes I briefly considered and abandoned were selling the books via eBay (too little return, would take too long) and giving them to a charity shop. I’ve given a bunch of clothes to charity, but I didn’t feel comfortable with giving away my books – it just didn’t seem like they would go to a good, book-loving home. Plus I have a pretty eclectic collection.

Next, there was Bookcrossing. Bookcrossing is a great idea, in theory – you register all the books you’re giving away on their website, which gives you an ID code to write in the front of the book. Then you simply leave the books somewhere – anywhere – and notify people on the website of the ‘drop point’. Sure enough, someone will have picked them up, registered them online (thus recording the journey of the book through different owners) and presumably read them and passed them on again.

I have a few problems with Bookcrossing. The first is that while it’s very easy to give away books, it’s quite difficult to pick them up. Even if you sign up to notifications of books being dropped in your area, they’re almost always gone by the time you get there – especially if you live in a place with a lot of Bookcrossing people (e.g. university, London). The second problem is that you’re unlikely to get any books that you actively want to read – it’s completely random. That’s not to say that the books are bad, but if there’s a particular book you want to read, you’re going to have to get it another way.

Also, personally speaking, as a giver of books, I would like to know something about the people who are receiving them. My books are pretty important to me, and I would like to know they’re going to a good home. I know it seems like a lot to ask, but I really wouldn’t be happy if I dropped a bunch of good quality books off somewhere to have them snarfed by someone else who won’t share, or worse, sells them.

My final problem is that I just have a visceral dislike of books that look old, feel old, smell old or used in any way. That’s why I don’t like libraries either. Who knows where the book’s been? Yes, I can look in the trail of ownership, but that’s likely to be incomplete and it won’t stop the book from being used.

Ultimately, I think Bookcrossing is better seen as a charity project or experiment rather than a way of actually giving and receiving books among people. As such, it’s a great idea. But I have to confess, my charity doesn’t extend that far – it extends in other directions, which I’ll mention in some future post.

Despite all of this, I did give away about eight books at a London Bookcrossing event at the Southbank Centre. Penguin had sponsored it and contributed 1000 new books, all of which had predictably disappeared by the time I got there 90 minutes later. There were still a couple of books contributed by other people that I sort-of wanted, but nothing stellar. The books I gave away were ones that I really wasn’t bothered by.

This was a good start, but I still had too many books. It was at this point that Naomi told me about Bookmooch. Bookmooch is a more straightforward book-swapping community. You list the books you want to give away, and you also create a wishlist of books you want. People ‘mooch’ books off you, for which you receive points, and you ‘mooch’ books off others, for which you spend points. It’s not a zero-sum system though, because points are injected at various points to encourage trading. No-one pays anything, since postage is fairly constant for all books. And the whole site is free.

The upshot is that there’s a pretty good flow of books both within countries and between them (although international swaps obviously costs more points). Three of my books have been mooched already, and you can see my current live list of books I’m giving away now:
I’ve also received one book that I actually want to read. It’s in good condition, and even better, I was informed of this fact not only by the book description, but through communication via the moochee and his reputation score. In that respect, it’s quite like eBay.

I like Bookmooch. I feel like that I’m making a connection with people I swap with, even if it’s small, and I can check out their profile or visit their website. While it does not have anywhere near all the books I want, it has a few and I’m sure that number will increase. Of course, it helps that I only live 2 minutes from a postbox and I can print out postage from home.

My only problem with it is that the site is pretty slow and has a mediocre design. Beyond that, though, I get free books, and I can clear up my bookshelves!

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