Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ask Not What The Moochers Can Do For You …

When I embarked on my 50-book challenge, I imagined that I would learn important lessons about life, myself, and everything. And so I have: I wasn’t meant to be a mooch.

I figured it might be expensive to buy all my books this year, especially given my propensity for reading only one out of every four books that I bring home. So when I ran across a site for exchanging used books for free, I thought, brilliant!

The site is Bookmooch. You list books you want to get rid of. When someone requests one, you mail it and get points. (Important tip: this is another reason why hardcover books are so uneconomical – the postage’ll kill ya.) Then you use your points to request books you want from other people.

I sign up and list ten books, then search excitedly for books I want. Does anyone want to give me a copy of The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse? Please? No rush, I just want it in time for Easter. No luck. So I create a wish list of books I want. When someone lists a book on your wish list, you get an email and can request it.

I set about filling my wish list (I am highly skilled at wish lists and gift registries), and quickly get my first book request: a gentleman in Israel wants my unread copy of The Crack at the Edge of the World. I weigh it and discover it’s going to cost $12 to ship it to him. Does anyone else think that seems like a lot of money to get rid of an old book?

On the other hand, I will get three points for shipping it overseas, which is three books for me, or four dollars per book. I’m torn. So I check out his profile page, which includes a long list of books he has mooched in the past. I discover one called Dying for Chocolate (Culinary Mysteries). It turns out there is a whole series of mystery novels in which the sleuth is a caterer, and the books come complete with recipes that the reviewers claim are quite good. This is exciting, although it creates a bit of a dilemma as to which bookshelf I would file such a book on. Still, I add it to my list, and continue checking his mooch list.

Then this little gem jumps out at me: Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter.

I don’t need to read this book, and it might be hazardous to my health if I did – I think I could develop whiplash by nodding vigorously through all 300 pages. I like this guy, and agree to send my book off to him. I hope he enjoys reading it. It made me look very smart sitting on my shelf all this time, but now it deserves to be read, and he deserves to read it.

So I send off his book and fill up my wish list and wait.

And wait.

I mail off more books.

And wait. And wait.

I mail off more books, and start to feel pangs in the post office.

Wait a minute! THIS ISN’T FAIR! There are never any books for ME!

Now, it’s not like I have trouble getting books for free. That’s what libraries are for, and I have a long hold list at the library too. The problem with the library is the whole pesky time limits thing – they actually want books back in some reasonable amount of time, so that other people can read them too. I suppose that’s fair to other people but that’s just not how I read books. What about ME?

Possibly I am not using bookmooch in the most efficient way. Instead of entering titles I want and waiting, maybe I should browse the shelves, like at a used bookstore. I browse by language/country, and discover that if I go with the obvious choice, English, I am treated to a monstrously long list of John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and Mary Higgins Clark, and paging through this list to get to anything else could take … well, the same amount of time as just waiting patiently for The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies to show up on my doorstep.

I browse by category, selecting “humor” because you are what you eat, or something. Here again I am treated to a long list of John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and Mary Higgins Clark. Did I miss something about The Chamber? Other books that I mysteriously failed to laugh through include The Lovely Bones, Hannibal, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Oh Brutus, you card. I also take note that Moon Unit Zappa has written a novel, information I assume could come in handy someday.

Not only am I no closer to acquiring any free books, I am increasingly agitated reading the titles on the long list. Can someone please explain to me why so many novels have “:A Novel” in the title? Is it because I might be confused about whether it is or isn’t a novel? (Let’s see … is this a novel, or a novella, or a very long short story? I can’t enjoy it unless I know for sure!) Does the publisher fear that bookstores might be unable to shelve the book properly without being given a BIG HINT where it goes? My inner conspiracy theorist suspects there might be lawyers involved.

I think bookmooch is a great idea, and I haven’t given up on it. I am wondering if there may be another lesson to be learned: the one about patience being a virtue.


  1. What I do for bookmooch is import my goodreads TBR list, and just use books from there to mooch, it's a long list over 600 books, and there are definitely books on BM from it. It's like going to a thrift store, you will find more misses than hits, but when you do find an awesome score, it's worth celebrating!

  2. Interesting - I'd been contemplating getting involved on the Mooching scene, but now I think I'll put it off for a little longer yet. Thanks for the 'review'!

    Rosie of BooksAndBakes

  3. Another one: a comment

    There's another way to do this, but I don't know the name of it. A friend of mine in California is part of some sort of thing where people in your town leave books in places, on purpose, and then they post where they left them, and then you look for them. It's like a scavenger hunt. I'll ask her what it's called for you!


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