Out With Book Clubs — In With Book Trades!

The solitary nature of the act of reading has never stopped our love of reading from proving inherently social. Readers connect with stories, and those stories in turn connect people in new ways. There’s a unique glimmer when two readers realize they share a literary connection, which can spark a passionate discussion about a story they both love.

Book lovers manifest their passion in countless ways—look to the proliferation of Booktok for a macro example. Then there’s Goodreads and Storygraph, social media platforms built around a communal admiration of the written word. On a more granular level, there are book clubs and buddy reads, both great ways to share in the joy of reading with others.

I’ve dipped my toes into many of these waters—including a short stint with Booktok (I got the hell out after a few months), occasional buddy reads, and a weird fascination with Goodreads (I like it when the number goes up, okay?).

But one method of making my reading hobby more social really clicked for me in the past year: book trades. I am quite literally 100% certain I am not the first person to think of and/or do this, but I wish to share it with you in case it fits your unique reading habits as well as it does for me.

Introducing the BOOK TRADE.

Is it a book club? A buddy read? No, but it draws inspiration from each of these, lowering the stakes and fueling the ever-growing proliferation of word-of-mouth book recs.

The book trade first surfaced as a viable plan for me when I discovered many of my reader friends had wildly different tastes in books (revolutionary, I know). Despite there being only a sliver of overlap in our respective Venn diagrams, I’d notice friends reading books I had never (1) heard of at all, or (2) wanted to read, and it made me curious. I reached out to three such friends and proposed book trades. I selected a book for them to read, and they did the same for me. We agreed on a deadline (a few months) by which we both had to read our selections. Here’s how it shook out.

  • Book trade 1: Cole reads A Court of Thorns and Roses; Sarah Reads Mistborn: The Final Empire
  • Book trade 2: Cole reads The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo; Stacy reads The Lies of Locke Lamora
  • Book trade 3: Cole reads A Thousand Splendid Suns; Sher reads The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

On the off chance anyone reading this follows my book-related work either here or at The Quill To Live, they’ll likely notice these books are decidedly off the beaten path when it comes to my usual reading preferences. I’m a high fantasy, big sci-fi kind of guy, and these books—a literary fiction, a romantasy, and a historical fiction—fall far enough outside of my usual wheelhouse that I normally wouldn’t have considered diving in.

And that’s exactly the point. The reason I love book trades so much. They broaden two horizons at once, and often in different directions.

In some cases, this broadening was by just a smidge. I didn’t like A Court of Thorns and Roses one bit. I like Evelyn Hugo more than ACOTAR, but not by much. Still, both books served as a notch in my literary utility belt, and I’m glad I read them—it’s always good to get a new perspective and something to discuss with readers who love different styles from the ones to which I gravitate.

Sarah, for her part, was an excellent sport. We argued at a friend’s wedding over the worldbuilding of Sarah J. Maas’s series. I explained that I look for huge worlds with diverse cultures and deep magic and lore. Sarah, for her part, responded that Maas’s series has all of that, and I struggled to articulate the difference between ACOTAR and my typical epic fantasy reads.

Until Sarah read Mistborn, that is. She loved the book and even went on to finish the series. She also said, and I quote, “I can see myself reading all of these” when I sent her my Cosmere reading order. We both emerged with a new understanding of an unfamiliar subgenre and while those understandings were different—mine an acknowledgment that this particular book didn’t hit the sweet spot for me and hers that epic fantasy can have many of the things she loves in a story—we both grew as readers.

Next, a brief pit stop to discuss my book trade with Stacy. (I am just now realizing all three traders had names starting with “S.” I wonder if that is cosmically significant somehow. Anyway…)

Stacy assigned me her favorite book, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I give Stacy all the props in the world because she took my less-than-glowing reactions to the book like a champ. Though I didn’t like it, I did gain a better understanding of Stacy as a reader. She has read a whole bunch of my recommendations, including a deep dive into the Cosmere. She often criticizes epic fantasy (even when she generally likes the book) for taking “too long to get going.” As a fan of big ol’ books with hundreds of pages of worldbuilding, I never understood exactly what she meant. And then I read Evelyn Hugo and it clicked. The book launched directly into its story within a few pages, and the hooks were in, even if the result was (by my estimate) lackluster. I still enjoy the long sections of lore in my books, but I can tailor my recommendations to Stacy much better with this lesson learned.

I can’t comment on Stacy’s reaction to The Lies of Locke Lamora yet because she has yet to read it. Stay tuned!

Finally, we come to Sher. If the measure of success is how much each person liked their book, then this book trade was a home run. Sher loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, regularly texting me updates and jokes and questions about it. Readers who recommend books to friends know that unique spark of elation that comes with positive feedback about a book you love. I returned the favor while reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, a gorgeous book about two Afghan women whose lives are interlaced by tragedy.

I left my book trades feeling eager for more. I’ve tried book clubs; they didn’t stick. One (at work) featured memoir after memoir; I couldn’t do it. Book trades reinvigorated that distinct sense of sharing something you love with someone else and learning more about them in turn.

I hope anyone who loves book clubs, buddy reads, or any other social reading-related events will continue doing them, of course. But if you’re a reader who hasn’t found something that clicks like book clubs do for others, give book trades a try! You might be surprised by what you find.

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are the Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

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