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How to Host a Completely Awesome Book Swap

Heather Bottoms

Staff Writer

Heather Bottoms is a used book lover, theatre geek, and compulsive volunteer. When she is not curating her Little Free Library, she is working at her local community theatre or over-preparing for book club. She hosts book swaps, leads an LGBT-themed book club, and loves to see people bonding over books. She lives with her computer nerd/musician husband and three kids in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @HeatherBottoms.

My 1,500 square foot home was built in 1962 and still sports the original wood-paneled walls and cramped bathrooms. I possess neither the interest nor the skill to whip up Pinterest-inspired baked goods or home brewed craft beer. Sophisticated shindigs are just not in my wheelhouse. I do, however, enjoy bringing people together. Community and conversation are right up my alley, but for a long time I let our modest home and my less than stellar abilities as a hostess keep me from entertaining.

Then a few years ago, my love of books and people compelled me to ignore my fears and host a Book Swap. And to my surprise, people showed up, and they LOVED it. It is now an annual event at our house. Apparently, inviting fellow book nerds to gush about the Man Booker shortlist and swap used books is a guaranteed recipe for success. Be encouraged. If you, like me, have abysmal decorating and cooking skills, you can still have a completely awesome Book Swap in your decidedly not-fancy house.

1. Send an Invitation

Send an evite, post on Facebook, or just text a group of book loving friends. I send out something like this:

“I’m hosting a Book Swap on June 23 at 7pm. Simply show up with a (preferably used) book of any genre that you really love, and that you are willing to part with. We will talk incessantly about how much we love reading, and then do a fun, possibly competitive, book swap. Feel free to bring a friend.”

I usually invite about 30-35 people and about 15-20 show up. Don’t fret about numbers. The good news is that even if you have 5 people, it’s still a blast.

2. Get Ready to Party

Your house doesn’t have to be a showplace, but tidy up and create as much space as you can. Borrow a few extra chairs, pull up the piano bench, and put everyone in one room. Clear off a place for people to pile the books they bring. A box or two of wine and a bowl of pretzels is totally fair game in my book, but feel free to provide more munchies if you like. If someone offers to bring something, gratefully accept and thank God for friends that understand things like fancy beverages and food preparation.

Remember that the people attending your Book Swap are readers. They do not care AT ALL that they are sitting in old folding chairs and drinking cheap wine. The alluring pile of books on the coffee table will blind them to your 1998 decor.

3. Create Conversation

Before the party, create a bunch of book related questions and write them down on slips of paper. For example: What is the last book that made you cry? What book do you most recommend to friends? I have a blast thinking up questions, but if you want a little help, you may want to consider getting Lit Chat: Conversation Starters About Books and Life, which you can find in the Book Riot Store.

As friends come in, have everyone draw a question and place their books on the table. Once folks have arrived and settled in, go around the room and have everyone take a turn to answer their chosen question. They can also pitch the book they brought, telling the genre and why they loved reading it. You would think that this might be awkward with a group of strangers, but it is amazing to see how the common love of books inspires even the most introverted people to share with other readers. It’s the coolest thing ever.

4. Swap Those Books

Once everyone is done sharing, the actual book swap begins. Count the number of people and write down numbers on slips of paper. Everyone draws a number to determine what order they take their turn. The person with #1 chooses the first book. Person #2 can steal a book that has already been chosen, or pick a new one from the pile, and so on. When a book is stolen, that person gets to select another book. A book can only be stolen twice though; after that it stays with the person who picked it last. The swapping process is crazy entertaining and it can get pretty competitive.

5. Success!

By the end of the night, the guests have a new book to take home, everyone has made new bookish friends, and you have almost nothing to clean up. Win-win-win! Now you can go hop in bed with your own new book and get to reading.

If you want to know how this event plays out in real life, you can read my earlier post on an especially magical Book Swap I hosted last fall. I’d love hear from our readers who have hosted their own book parties. Feel free to post your tips in the comments.