Our Reading Lives

Holiday Book Exchange: Give (and Receive) the Gift of Used Books!

Have you been paired up for Secret Santa at work yet? Perhaps you’ve drawn names out of a hat for a non-denominational gift exchange before everyone starts vacation in December? It’s that time of year where we act like good sports and draw names and exchange gifts with both acquaintances and loved ones. But before you limit your gift exchange energy, I want to make one suggestion: a holiday book exchange. The holiday book exchange is a bookish person’s holiday chance to shine like glittering decorations in a shop window. We read all year, we collect books, and now, it’s time to gift them.

Books with Santa Mug | Holiday Book Exchange

The way this works is simple and super affordable. My friends and I started doing this when we were all graduate students (i.e. dirt poor), and it was a fun way to gift each other on a grad student budget. We had a small group—five people—so we each chose five books from our shelves, wrapped them (gift wrap, newspaper, one friend even used taped together pages torn out of the free Writer’s Chronicle copies that showed up in our mailboxes periodically), and brought them to the exchange. Then we piled them in the middle of the table and took turns choosing and opening the gently used books our friends had chosen. Like most gift exchanges, there was the opportunity to steal, and if there was a particularly thrilling choice—a hardcover new release, a popular read—then it got pretty crazy with stealing.

And when all was said and done, after books had been opened, negotiations began. Trade agreements were fostered. Promises to borrow books later were sought. And then we ate, and drank, and paged through our new books, all quiet and content with a pile of new (old) books to take home.

(Now, this type of holiday exchange can work on a larger scale too. If you’re perhaps a member of a book club, or even planning an event at a bookstore, you can limit the contribution to one book per person, and then everyone leaves with one book instead of five.)

There are a few benefits to the holiday book exchange beyond the obvious (we love books, we want books, give them to us now). First, this is a great chance to connect with your bookish friends. When I find a friend who reads, whether we get together for a play date or we run into each other at a coffee shop, we always discuss what we’re reading, even if it’s just in passing. The holiday book exchange gives you the opportunity to choose books for those friends, ones you think they may love, and it gives them the chance to do the same for you.

I feel compelled to mention that while the holiday book exchange is a great way to clean off your shelf, this is still a gift exchange. It does require you to give some thought to your audience. This is not merely book evangelism (read this!) but rather book fellowship (I’ve read this and I thought you might enjoy it because you also have a soft spot for female protagonists who find themselves hitting rock bottom).

And likewise, one of the best parts of the holiday book exchange is that YOU GET NEW BOOKS. Allow your horizons to be expanded by reading that critic you always sort of looked down your nose at. Catch up on the latest from an author you love so you can chat with your friend about it. Read first lines and see what book grabs your hand and pulls you along.

At this time of year, it’s all too easy to resign yourself to the peach candle moment. You remember that SNL sketch from last year about women gifting each other the same peach candle?

Yeah. We don’t have to do that. (At least, not with everybody.) So round up a few of your bookish friends, select a few books to share, and get wrapping. Make some cookies and gather round the book pile, and spread your love of books (and each other).