I followed quite a few bookstagrammers for a long time on my personal account, many of whom encouraged me to start a dedicated bookstagram account of my own. In January, I started Rebecca’s Book Exchange with the goal of not buying any books in 2017. That’s right. I started a bookstagram account but am not buying any books. The reasons are simple: 1. I live in a Brooklyn studio with one narrow bookcase. 2. I want to save money for eating and traveling. 3. I love a challenge. I also decided that I want to donate some of the money I save to the Brooklyn Pubic Library, which offers many different community outreach programs.
What I’ve discovered so far is that there are many different ways to get books without having to buy them. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Community Bookshelves
I’m actually not sure what the correct terminology for this is, but I’m talking about bookshelves in places that encourage you to “take a book, leave a book.” You simply leave a book you’re finished with on the shelf and trade it for a book you’re interested in reading. This is a great way to make space on your bookshelf at home, while also gaining new reading material.
Once you start looking for these, you may start to see them everywhere. Many coffee shops have started community bookshelves for their customers. Birch Coffee in New York City has a shelf of books in every location I’ve been to. The great thing is, the books are always really interesting. I order a coffee, grab a book, and if I like it, I keep it. Of course, I always add a quality book in return. I’ve discovered some unique books in this manner, such as Spirit of Elm: The Caretaker’s Legacy by Michael Villa. Ever heard of it? Neither had I, but it turned out to be a terrific book. Thanks, Birch Coffee!
Another place I’ve spotted a community bookshelf is at my husband’s office. I always scan it for new contributions when I visit him for lunch. A co-worker of his started it last year, and now it has grown to a couple shelves.
If you don’t know where to find a communal bookshelf, how about starting one yourself? You could ask your local coffee shop, place of employment, or anywhere else you frequent if they would be interested in starting one. Just be sure to leave a sign with directions.
2. On the Street
Maybe this sounds crazy, but I find free books on the street nearly once a week. It’s true! No, I’m not digging through people’s garbage. These are very clean, almost new books that have been stacked on the steps of a brownstone or put in box on the curb in a way that practically screams “Free Books.” Is this just a New York thing? If it is, I’m never leaving.
The next time you’re walking around your neighborhood, you may be surprised to spot a box full of books. Don’t be timid. Get in there and grab a few good looking ones. Even if a book isn’t something you’re interested in, if it is in great condition, grab it to use as book currency. This is a term I’ve made up, which means that you now have a book that could be worth something to someone else.
For example, I found a copy of Catch-22 in brand new condition nestled among some older books in a box on the curb. Inside the cover was the receipt, stating that the book was purchased in 1999. I think that the owner probably bought it, never read it, and nearly 20 years later decided to make a little extra room on his or her bookshelf. When I saw it, I thought my husband would enjoy reading it. After he’s done with it, I can use it as book currency.
Here’s where several categories come together. Remember that communal bookshelf? Isn’t that a better place for a good quality book than in the trash? You can use the book you found as book currency and trade it for another book more relevant to your interests on the communal bookshelf. Or, if you find a book a friend might enjoy, you can trade it for a friend’s book. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
3. Exchange with Friends
I decided to name my bookstagram “Rebecca’s Book Exchange” because I’ve always been a fan of trading books with friends. Even when I in 6th grade, I understood the value in sharing one’s book collection. I always spent my allowance on Sweet Valley Senior Year books (which our middle school library did not deem worthy to carry). I would buy the next one in the series, read it as fast as I could, and then promptly turn it over to my BFF. She, in turn, would buy the latest in the Fearless series, read it, and then give it to me. We both wanted a complete set, so each of us buying one series made sense. I knew instinctively that this is what best friends were for: sharing the love of reading and swapping books. I think the tradition should continue.
Now that I’m in New York, I live far away from all my friends. However, isn’t the cost of shipping a book across the country still less than buying a new one? Eventually, I would love to start a program where people trade books they already own with others in a mutually beneficial trade. Caraval for Heartless? Absolutely! I realize that this won’t work with people who want to keep all their books forever, but I have a small shelf and have to be choosey about what I keep forever and always. Be on the lookout for a book exchange program in the future!
After I read The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware while vacationing with my parents, I gave the book to them rather than carting it back home. Now, both of my parents have read it and my mom loaned it to a friend of hers. That book is far happier being read by many people than wasting away on my bookshelf. In return, my mom promised to bring me a few of her latest reads when she visits me next month. I’m looking forward to her coming (and bringing me more books).
I am in love with GoodReads, even more so now that I’ve found the giveaway feature. The first time I stumbled upon this section, I spent longer than I’d like to admit entering book giveaways. The whole time I was entering giveaway after giveaway, I couldn’t help thinking that I’d never win anything by doing this. However, the next day, I found out that I actually won a book. I was so excited that it worked! Now, I’m a believer.
There are also tons of giveaways on Instagram. However, I only enter giveaways that make me do something rather than spam all my friends. For example, I love the way Owl Crate organizes giveaways via photo contests. I’m always down for a photo contest!
5. The Public Library
I know, this one is super obvious. However, if it’s so obvious, then why doesn’t everyone do it?
I joined the Brooklyn Public Library and was immediately amazed at all the books they have. Not only do they have what’s physically on the shelves, but they have a great website that makes it easy to request books from other branches. Every week, I request a bunch of books, then go and pick them up once they’ve all arrived at my branch.
In addition, the Brooklyn Public Library, like most libraries these days, has an app that allows me to easily check out ebooks and audiobooks. This is a great feature for when I want something to read without leaving my house. I also really love listening to audiobooks during my commute and while I’m doing chores around the house.
The library is an endless source of books for me now. Plus, I love having a due date because it pushes me to read more. In the past, I would buy a book and it might sit on my shelf for weeks or months before I would finally get to it. Now, I know I only have three weeks to read the 10 books I checked out, so I’ve been reading like crazy. Of course, I can renew them online, but having a deadline is a great thing for my TBR list.
So, that is how I’ve started a bookstagram account with the goal of not buying any books. It’s been so much fun looking for other ways to score new reads. The hardest part, of course, is waiting for new releases. However, I’ve found that my library actually does a great job of getting new books as soon as possible. I just need to learn a little patience.
I’m also not counting books that are gifted to me. My husband bought me an Owl Crate subscription for Valentine’s Day, my birthday is the same week as when A Court of Wings and Ruin is going to be released (hint hint), and I’m making a Christmas wish list of books I would like to eventually own. I’m not going to lie; I do love owning pretty books. However, instead of buying every book I want on a whim, I now find that I’m more selective.
This is especially true with cookbooks. Normally, I would flip through a cookbook at the bookstore and decide that I had to have it. Then, it would sit on my shelf unused. Now, I check out cookbooks from the library, use them for as long as I have the book, and then decide if I should add it to my wish list. I have tested three cookbooks this year, and out of those three, I have only added Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez to my Christmas wish list. My husband and I have loved every recipe that we’ve made from this cookbook. I decided that this one is a keeper, the one that I would like to own forever and always.
What do you think? Could you go a year without buying any books for yourself? Or, do you know of any other ways to get free books? Please share in the comment section below.