Stewardship of Life


The Reader’s Relatively Ouchless Guide to Sharing Books

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on January 30, 2010

Do you love books? Is reading one of your greatest pleasures? Do you delight in the feel of a book in your hands and enjoy turning each crisp page? Do you know the difference between seraph and sans seraph, between Arial and Garamond? Are you constantly on the lookout for extra book shelves to house your growing collection? Is your idea of a great shopping trip a few uninterrupted hours in a used bookstore? If you answered “yes” to most of the questions posed, then this post is for you.

I’ll state it plain. I adore books. When I moved to upstate New York for seminary internship, I packed and moved more than 60 boxes of books. I can still remember the faces of Dane, Charlie, Randy and other parishioners as they unloaded box after heavy box, probably wondering exactly what sort of person they had contracted to serve their parish. When I left New York for North Dakota, I dropped the total to 45 boxes thanks to a rigorous culling of my precious volumes. Still, when Greg, Levi, Jeff, Dan and others unloaded the trailer, I still had some explaining to do.

As a former high school and college English instructor, I know the value of books. I treasure the written word and the printed page. My mother instilled this love in me, and for years I clung to every precious page—no matter how much it cost to move books I had not read in years halfway across the country. I had this notion that a large library somehow equated to an expanded mind chock full of collected wisdom. Forget about the dust and the page tanning!

My notions have changed. Don’t get me wrong–I still adore books. Very few things give me as much pure pleasure as an entire afternoon curled up with a good read and a pot of hot tea. The difference is that I no longer feel compelled to hang on most of my books. I used to be afraid that if I let go of a book, I might forget what was recorded between the covers never to recapture it. What if one of my daughters needed my copy of Frankenstein for a class? What if a parishioner asked a question about a tricky and obscure passage from scripture? Would I be prepared to respond? Truth is that rarely happens, and even when it does there are many ways to address the issue quickly and effectively.

The next time I move, I should only be carting four or five small boxes of books—still more than I’d like to deal with, but a great improvement nonetheless. So where do all the good books go? How in the world does one reduce a collection of dear old friends to a more manageable size and do it with integrity? Read on, dear reader, read on!

If you want to earn a pretty penny for your efforts, consider selling your books via Amazon.com, half.com, or through a local used book store. If your books are in good condition, chances are someone will be willing to pay for them. With very little effort, you can earn a respectable chunk of change. I’ve netted several hundred dollars in the last year alone.

If you want to share and share alike, consider a book swapping club. I use paperbackswap.com. It’s a great way to share books with other dedicated readers. One simply sets up an account by posting a minimum of 10 titles that you are willing to swap with others. In return you receive two book credits enabling you to immediately begin swapping. The way the club works is simple: a club member requests a book you have posted, and if you are able you mail them the book. You receive a credit once the transaction is complete. When you want a book, you request it. If a fellow member is able to grant your request, you will be notified and the book will be shipped to you. The club also has CD and DVD sister swapping clubs. All you are out is the cost of media mail. In return you find a good home for your used books, and you are able to request other books to read.

Finally, you can give your books away. Consider donating them to your local library. In a small town, your books may be a welcome addition to the collection. Otherwise they will likely find a home through a  Friends of the Library Book Sale or a “free for the taking” box. Another route is to use The Freecycle Network.  Offer a box of books for free, and someone will probably take them. You may also wish to simply re-gift or share with friends. The gift of reading is one of the best presents a person can give, and keeping books in circulation is much wiser than hoarding them on a shelf where the pages will rarely, if ever, see the light of day.

But, but, but…I know, what if you NEED some information in a book you have given away? Well, there’s always the library, other book-loving friends, Project Gutenberg, paperbackswap.com or purchasing a copy used. Letting go is always risky, but I’m finding the rewards far outweigh the risk. If all else fails, consider this fact: someday you will leave all your books behind.  Why not practice a little “letting go” right now? Trust me, it feels pretty good.

How about you? Do you have a bookish tale to share? What’s the state of your personal library? Are you able to let go, or does it cause you deep physical and emotional pain? I look forward to hearing from you.

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3 Responses to 'The Reader’s Relatively Ouchless Guide to Sharing Books'

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  1. Robert Kieffer Leaverton said,

    When Susan and I arrived here in Montana, I gave the local senior citizens center all my Tom Clancy novels. One read is enough. Currently I have shelves of books, I may never read. It is indeed time to thin the collection.

  2. Margie said,

    I used to have a huge collection also. When I moved in 2001, I had at least 80 boxes of books. Several things have changed my attitudes, first and foremost, the ease and speed of the internet used book market. I live far from any large bookstores and have limited local libraries (although I do use ILL for very expensive books). So I buy more books than ever but I usually buy used and have a rolling inventory on half.com of 100-200 books. These are all nonfiction. I have a permanently damaged shoulder even after joint replacement and find holding a book for reading very difficult so I bought a Kindle for fiction supplemented by audible books on my phone. I thought it would be a huge sacrifice to give up the tactile pleasures of physical books but find that I love my Kindle and having audible books always handy. I have, however, developed a very strong interest in book history over the last 7 or 8 years so I now have a very small collection of 16th Century books and book artifacts. Maybe that helps to balance it out? High tech/low tech. I think I’ll always need to have books on bookshelves to consider a room properly decorated though!


    • Thanks, Margie, for some good observations. I agree, it’s all about balance. Glad your Kindle is working for you. I’ve wondered about how it would feel to hold that instead of paper and cloth or leather. I like to check out audio books from the library for long drives. Thanks for joining the conversation.


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