My book communities

I‘ve always been a book nerdicle, ever since I was small.

I remember demanding that my mother read me books like The Faraway Tree, and The Witches by Roald Dahl over and over again.  Then when my poor mom got tired of reading to me, I read everything I could find in the house and in the libraries. I remember the Enid Blyton phase (Famous Five, Secret Seven, Wishing Chair etc), the Roald Dahl phase, the Nancy Drew phase, the Sweet Valley High phase (I hang my head in shame. Save us from those twins with their blonde hair, blue eyes and “perfect size 6 figures”), the being-determined-to-read-the-Lord-of-the-Rings-at-some-silly-age phase, and then the phase when I would go to the library and grab the books with the most attractive covers. I read loads of dubious teen fiction, and some decent stuff as well. I read whatever I could lay my hands on.

I remember my summer holidays being interminably boring, and me reading up to three books a day (?). Is that possible? I have no idea. It could have something to do with the fact that I am a boring person, and all that I like to do is read, rather than the holidays being boring in themselves.

Nowadays I am somewhat more discerning. I usually have a small list of very specific books I want to read and can’t be bothered with anything else. And I am lucky to be exposed to an incredible web of book communites in the UK so that I can get hold of any book I could possibly want.

1) Frequently my first stop is Amazon, where I can read reviews and bits of the book. You can buy the book new if you want, but I usually prefer to buy second hand versions that often sell for 1p, so you just pay the postage. Sweet. I’ve also sold off unwanted books and textbooks on Amazon.

2) The next place I joined is called Readit Swapit. It’s very popular in the UK. How it works is you upload the inventory of books you are willing to swap. If someone sees a book of yours they would like, they send you an automated message through the site, and you can check out their inventories and decide if you would like to swap with them. Or you can look for a book you want and make a request. Unfortunately this site doesn’t work very well for me, because as I said I am very picky and usually the person doesn’t have a book I want, but I have made a few successful swaps.

3) Another site that BFG is really into is BookMooch. I think the Book Mooch concept is awesome and works far better than Readit Swapit. The only problem is that it has not taken off as much in the UK as in the rest of the world, so getting people to send you books is difficult. How it works is that you upload your inventory and anyone can request a book from you. You don’t make a swap with them, but if you decide to send them your book you get Book Mooch points. You can use these points to request any book you want from anyone that has it. It’s great! If you swap with people overseas you get loads of points but you can choose to refuse overseas requests and most people do, unfortunately for me. Please would the whole of the UK sign up to Book Mooch pronto?

4) Then of course there are the libraries. Our actual local library has never once had anything that I wanted to read on its shelves, but no matter, because all of the libraries in our county are linked, and you can go online and request the book you want from whichever library in the county it is stored at, and they will send it to your library for you to pick up. You have to pay a £1 fee to use this service, but there is almost always at least one copy of the books I want lurking around the county somwhere, so it is probably the cheapest way to get hold of books that I have found. Maybe this is why my library never actually has anything worth reading, the books are floating up and down the county!

5) There are charity shops everywhere. They sell books dirt cheap, sometimes for as little as 10p.

6) There are also loads of book clubs, but they are usually reading things I’m not interested in, so I’ve never joined one.

7) and finally, there are book shops. A paperback usually goes for £8 or £9, which is expensive when compared to the other options but not really that expensive when compared to other countries.

I think the UK is a book-loving and reading-loving country, and we really do have an amazing array of cheap choices and options; when it comes to book access, we are spoilt beyond belief. I wish there was a cheap and easy way for us to send books to places that are not so fortunate.

What are the book communities like where you are?


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Momcat
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 10:11:12

    When we were young, there wasn’t tv (until I was 12) so we were encourage to use our local library. We also used to get a stack of comics during the holidays. I loved Enid Blyton and the Folk of the Faraway Tree was one of my favourites. I also loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I went through my Famous Five and Secret Seven phase too. When my kids were smaller and up until fairly recently, I couldn’t get through a whole library book. I would stock up on several books at our local fetes where the second hand book stall would be my first stop. I could read those books at my leisure. Towards the end of last year, I renewed my library membership and I usually get about 4 books which will take me the month to read. I always find something to read there and the trick there is remembering to renew the books so I don’t sit with a big fine!


  2. Damaria Senne
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 10:15:01

    Funny enough, I don’t have a book community as such. I usually buy my books either secondhand, or from online bookstores.
    But recently I chatted with some local friends about exchanging books, and my friend Gaynor came over on Saturday to raid my bookshelf. I’m planning to raid hers soon. I suppose if this works out well for us, we will be the start of a book community.


  3. Paula
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 11:28:19

    We have a book store that doesn’t allow buying books but only allows you to take a book when you leave one. It’s a cool concept. I like Libraries when they are huge. I am a huge fan of books. And the smell of books- hence me working in the library. Its tiny but it makes me.


  4. Kirsty
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 12:37:52

    Oh hello, OTHER VERSION OF ME!! This was like reading the thoughts at the back of my head. LOVE IT! I’ve never tried book swapping sites but might give them a go… I have a bagload of books I don’t want, and tried to sell them through Amazon but doing that requires a credit card which ek het nie.
    The only thing you did not mention here (which I am now dying to know) is what sort of books DO you like? I’m also quite specific… but I wonder if we match up…


  5. Tara
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 12:59:11

    I’m so glad that I’m not the only book nerd! I also read EVERYTHING I could get hold of. And then some. It’s always been an escape for me. It all started when I was very young. We (my family) moved from the sticks to town so that I could start school. So I found myself at age 5 in a classroom full of kids, and some weird woman telling us what to do. I wasn’t all that interested so I stared out the window. A lot. My school work suffered and I would have had major problems if it were not for the head mistress. She had me come to her office once a week and read to her. Out loud. I quickly caught up with my class and in fact, shot past them. The head mistress used to slip me extra books. Books for BIG kids! It was great!
    Now we have a loose group of ladies who swap books. But I have recently discovered the joys of Kindle. I don’t have an actual Kindle, but I do have the application on my iPhone. The screen is a little on the small side, but to be able to buy a classic book for R15 (about 2 quid-cheap by our standards) is great. And it’s always with me. Stuck in a bank queue? No problem!


  6. Dora
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 19:31:40

    Hey, I didn’t know you can buy books from Amazon for 1p! Good tip that. The book swap idea is also good.

    I just use the libraries. Unless I’m looking for ultra new books, then I MIGHT buy it. But I usually have things to read while I wait. Yeah, I use the inter-library request thing a lot too, and we don’t even have to pay for it here!

    Bad news is that I tend to rack up lots of library fines… :( But it’s all for a good cause so that’s ok! I wish people would use the libraries more! Those in London are so under-used and under-funded. :(

    Yeah, I went through the Roald Dahl and Nancy Drew phase and lots and LOTS of dodgy teen novels too. But hey, it’s got me reading and I wouldn’t mind if my kids start reading crap like that too!


  7. Po
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 20:39:49

    Momcat: I also have trouble remembering to take books back. They give me 3 weeks per book, and after 3 weeks I usually even forget I have the book! But libraries are a great concept though.

    Damaria: I guess I meant “community” in a very loose way, because I was referring to Amazon, and even bookstores. Any collection of books to be swapped, bought or sold. It overwhelms me how many cheap choices we have in the UK. We are spoilt!

    Paula: that sounds like a cool shop! My friend has a tiny library at work where people contribute books. I like that too. But I think most of the scientists at my work have very one track minds, they aren’t that much into reading fiction.

    Kirsty: I think for Amazon you only need a debit card, cos I’ve been selling for years on mine. Or did the rules change? I made some links to stuff I read last year and what I want to read this year, but I only managed to link it through my “about Po” page, and don’t think I know how to link it to my sidebar too. WordPress complications! Here is the link:

    But in a short summary: the best books I read this year were Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and The gathering by Anne Enright, and last year definitely The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

    Tara: Ja for some reason owning a Kindle hasn’t even crossed my mind. I guess because I am so spoilt for choice here. The only reason I might consider one was if SA fiction was more easily available to download, because getting book posted here is so expensive.

    Dora: I know it’s pretty incredible seeing books listed for 1p, although the postage costs £2.38 or something like that so it’s not really 1p at all. But I see that recently Amazon has started listing the books as costing “2.39, but with free postage, rather than 1p with £2.38 postage. Haha maybe they think it makes them look better if they say you get free postage.
    I can’t believe you don’t have to pay for inter-library loans! Discrimination against West Midlanders!


  8. Shannon
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 21:39:39

    US is awesome book-wise. Amazon,, are all great. The major chain bookstores (Borders, Barnes and Noble) are often three stories high and they’ll order anything they don’t have in stock for you, and then there are smaller independent bookstores that cater to more eclectic tastes. Lots of used bookstores, lots of libraries. Being at Harvard is awesome, 15 million volumes I think?–basically there’s never anything I can’t find. Lots of book swaps online.

    I think I’m going to get a Kindle because I just won a fellowship to spend a year in SA (yay!) and as I recall, books there are pricy and hard to find. So instead of going through a book drought or lugging over books from home, I think I’ll get the Kindle so I have access to Amazon’s collection. But I like the tactile experience of books so I don’t see Kindle becoming my primary reader, just a stopgap measure.


  9. Cam
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 09:01:09

    Um. :)


  10. Po
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 21:31:27

    Shannon: wow, Harvard sounds amazing! I work at Oxford but all the amazing libraries are owned by colleges or restricted to students so I never get to see them, never mind read anything. But then, all I want to read is fiction, so I don’t need no smancy pants Oxford libraries ;)

    Cam: oh. Um?


  11. tiah
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:26:48

    When we lived in the UK we found Abebooks very useful. Have you tried them? Given your post, they seem like something you might enjoy.


  12. tiah
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 07:28:36

    Oh and your line, “the Sweet Valley High phase (I hang my head in shame,” made me laugh. I’m guilty, too.


  13. Po
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 16:50:51

    Tiah: thanks for the recommendation, It looks like a great site! Ah yes, Sweet Valley high, that went all the way to when the twins were kids in nursery school to when they hit university, but I’m glad to say I stuck to the high-school series, which is bad enough!


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