Many moons ago (read: in about 2013), myself and 5 of my friends sat around a local cafe table and swapped books under the table, making sure we didn’t end up with the book we’d brought. They were humble beginnings but that was where the annual book swap started, despite not being ‘annual’ until 2015.
Now every year, despite my anxiety’s strong desire to crawl under the covers and never see another human until the end of time, I host a book swap. This past weekend I hosted my most recent one and it was the most successful yet, so I thought I would write a little guide on the things I do to make it work. There are about a million ways you can host a book swap with varying elements, these are just what I do!
You might want to invite only your bookish pals but I really encourage you to cast the net a little wider. I usually just invite my gal pals (because it keeps it at a manageable number – I invite around 40 and this year 20 people showed up) and it helps that we often have similar – but not identical! – tastes in books, so it ensures there’s something for everyone. I am always very clear in my invitation that everyone is welcome, whether they’re a big reader or not. There are two main elements to my book swaps and everyone will be able to participate in at least one of them, so no one should feel left out.
For many years, I asked my guests to bring a plate. This often didn’t work as well as I had planned because everyone would bring a plate to cater for 20 people and then only 10 would show up. It would leave a lot of excess food and felt wasteful. This year I organised it myself and it was just about the perfect amount for everyone. A bit of cheese, a bit of chocolate, a bit of wine – you’re done!
This year, for the first time, I included a couple of activities. I hate forced fun, so these are pretty low key but Pinterest is rife with ideas for bookish games if you like that kind of thing. I stuck with a tin for recommendations where I asked everyone to write down their three favourite books from this year (or of all time if they had a slow reading year) and at the end of the day, I collated them all and messaged them a list of all the recommendations with their blurbs so everyone could browse at their leisure.
I also had a stack of books that I tied together and everyone guessed how many pages in total there were – much like the ‘guess the jellybeans’ game popular with school fetes the world over. I picked up 6 books from op-shops that I had either read or had heard great things about – whoever got the closest guess won the whole stack.
If you really like the idea of including activities, check out Booked for the Weekend’s post on how her book swaps go down – she has printables and ideas galore!
And now, what we’re all really here for, the actual swapping of books. My book swaps have two parts, as I mentioned earlier.
#1: The Blind Book Swap
I ask all my guests to bring a book that they have read before, loved and would love to share with others. The blind book swap is not the time for palming off copies of books you just want to get off your shelves – I’m very adamant about this. I ask everyone to wrap them up before they come and then once they arrive, I ask them to describe the book they’ve brought with a couple of Post-it notes, keeping it vague but specific enough that no one will pick up a book they’re not into.
Once everyone has arrived, we draw names out of a hat to decide whose turn it is. Each person can either pick a book from the wrapped pile or – in ‘Bad Santa’ style – steal a book from someone who has already unwrapped theirs. If they steal, the person they steal from then gets to choose all over again (either a new book or they can steal from someone else, just not the person who stole from them!). We keep going until everyone has a book in their hands.
#2: The Bookshelf
All those books you want to get off your shelf at home? This is where you can bring them. Either a table or a shelf (a ladder in my case) filled with books that everyone brings to get rid of. One person’s trash is another’s treasure after all. It’s a free-for-all during the event and then any books leftover are either kept for next year or donated to a local bookshop.
That’s it! It’s as simple as that. I see other people online with very flashy book swap events, which are all fantastic but at the end of the day, we’re all here to pick up a book we wouldn’t usually, so as long as everyone goes home with a book they didn’t have when they arrived, you’ve done your job.
Are you hosting a book swap soon? Let me know how it goes!