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Monday, May 04, 2009

Readers: do you spend a fortune on books?

I read all the time. I even carry a "spare" paperback with me to ward off the nightmare situation of being in any sort of delay with no reading matter. At night while J watches Sharpe endlessly, I read.

Not only do I read a lot, but I read very quickly. People are sceptical about this but I stoutly contest that if we both took a GCSE on the subject matter, I would do as well as the plodder who takes weeks to finish a book.

I study reviews in the papers and sometimes order a book based on what I've read, without having seen the book in question. This quite often applies to hardbacks I just Have to Have, the most recent being The Book of the Interwar and Edwardian House, Wetlands (couldn't wait for the paperback) and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.

The trouble with all this reading is that it's an expensive hobby. But let me share my three Top Tips for getting hold of books and reducing your EU Book Mountain without spending a fortune.

1. Swap your books. I do this informally via colleagues at work. I hit a rich seam in Nicky but unfortunately she's in Belgium and our travel restrictions mean that we rarely see each other now. I have a huge pile of her books to return. I also use Read It Swap It, an excellent UK swapping website.

I'm now a "super swapper" on there, having swapped over 100 books. I don't keep my book list activated all the time - only when I want a particular book or if I'm starting my holiday pile. For a two week holiday, I need a book a day, unless it's a huge book, so I start gathering books and piling them up in readiness.

I can't bear books that look shabby or well thumbed so I only opt for swaps where the book is described as "like new" or in excellent condition with no damage. I once went for a book described as "acceptable" and it was so disgusting it went straight in the bin.

It's amusing to put a hot new book on there and see what a feeding frenzy you start. Be very picky then about the book you want in return - you'll have plenty of choice.

If there's a book you want, and it's just come out in paperback or airport edition, add it to your wishlist and then you'll be notified when someone has it to swap.

Make sure you get very good quality wrapping supplies. I recently bought some cut price brown paper and tape and one of my books was damaged in transit. I always use bubble wrap on hardbacks because their edges pierce brown paper.

And on Read It Swap It, make sure you communicate to the swappee if you're going to be late posting. People can get surprisingly antsy about this and hand out a bad rating. I've had a couple of "oh no!" moments where I realised I no longer have a book that I've just agreed to swap, but I find that if you're quick to make contact and offer them another book, people are satisfied.

2. Sell your books. I use Amazon to sell pristine hard backs. Quite often, reading the book once is enough for me. I don't need to keep it. So I sell it on Amazon. A very easy process and you'd be surprised what prices certain books can command.

3. Give them away. I like the idea of Book Crossing, where you leave books on public transport and in cafes and track their progress, but I find it a bit irksome having to buy the labels and register the books. Instead I just take them to the charity shop, although some of them don't like getting books so you have to make sure you choose the right one.

I'm conscious there's a fourth option which is go to the library, but while I used to do this, I've never joined the local library. I was put off when they insisted on three forms of identification. I'd taken my driving licence and passport and couldn't believe they wanted to see a utility bill as well. But my mum is an avid library goer and when I'm going down there for a visit, she accumulates her own pile for me.

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