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At my place of employment, we have a Book Exchange. It’s a tricky sticky trap. Three shelves in the library dedicated to the guilt-free donation and collection of books and magazines. At first I was delighted because it was somewhere to offload a whole lotta books I had that I no longer wanted. Then I was delighted because everyone else was doing the same and suddenly there were dozens of free books for me to pounce on.  Circle of life, yo. Then I was nervous because I thought I might be taking too many. Then I was worried because I had a huge pile of books waiting to be read.  Now I need a lie down. With a book. I love the Book Exchange.

This morning there was another book on the shelves (why do I keep looking?) that I really want, and now I have a quandary. My currently-reading pile is approaching vertiginous (talk about your first world problems). There are, I am reluctant to admit, a couple of books in there that I’ve lost the spark for. It hurts when your relationship with a book gets to this stage: you realise you’re just reaching out from obligation and memories — remember when you first met and it was all rushed glimpses while you were supposed to be working? When you kept saying “just one more page” and giggling when it made you late for work? — and then you can’t even remember the major plot points.  Suddenly it’s all just duty and burden.  I’m trying to rekindle the passion, but…maybe it’s time to return those books to the Book Exchange and accept that we’re done. That life has moved on, we’ve grown and changed, and now we’re not the people we were when we met. On the other hand (to labour this metphor further: I believe in getting maximum value out of my metaphors, given how much I pay for them), maybe I just feel bored with those books because there are some sexy new books fluttering their pages at me from the shelves of Book Exchange.  It’s a weakness: a matte-finish paperback cover; the scent of Penguin Classics pages; that experienced creasing along the spine…

The issue is this: is it inappropriate to collect a free book I want when I know I may not get around to reading it for ages? I know, let’s do the mature thing and write a pro/con list:

Pros and Cons of taking the book I’m thinking of taking


  • Would allow me to read a book I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while: it sounds interesting and gripping and I would like to read it.


  • Would prevent someone else reading that book right now.
  • Would prevent me reading one of the many other excellent, worthwhile, interesting and gripping books already waiting in my collection.
  • Would make me feel slightly anxious about appearing literarily gluttonous to my coworkers, who by now have come to recognise that slightly feverish, upper-lip-sucking look I get when I’m trapped in a book-related quandary.

Pro (rebuttal):

  • I WANT IT.

Other factors to consider

  1. I could stop reading one of my other, less-loved books and put it in the Book Exchange to swap for the one I’m thinking of taking.
  2. I probably will not do that.
  3. I could read the book I want really fast and then put it back on the Book exchange shelf before anybody notices or is truly deprived. I have adopted this strategy in the past with zero success, forgetting to return the book in question and instead passing it on to somebody else entirely. Also, further problems emerge if I read the book and discover I love it and wish to keep it in my own collection forever.
  4. I could shout out to friends and family and ask if they have any books I could bring in and put in the Book Exchange in swap for the one I’m thinking of taking. I would like to contribute enough books that everyone here is distracted by how many there suddenly are and not notice that I’ve nicked the best one. This would not actually change the Cons listed above, but would do something to mitigate my (very slight) sense of guilt. This only really works if you ignore the fact that not all books are created equal: I could bring in a zillion Sweet Valley High Super Thrillers and that would not compensate those injured by losing the opportunity to read the book I’m thinking of taking.
  5. I have, in the past, nobly passed on books I found interesting, only to have them evaporate into the ether (and by “ether”, I mean “other people’s collections”, naturally) and find myself regretful. Walking the footpaths in the hush of night, beating my chest and wailing into the uncaring suburban air, etc. I am nothing if not thorough.


I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go ahead and take that book. Hands up everyone who guessed this would be the conclusion? Now keep your hands up if you enjoyed this little journey all the same? I’ll wait until it’s hometime, then swing by the shelves, all casual-like: “Oh, hmm, that looks kinda interesting…something I could have a taste of…well, if nobody else wants it, it seems like a waste to leave it here.” BAM. Mine. To salve my conscience (YOU ALREADY HAVE A BAJILLION BOOKS YOU FOOL it whispers), I will push through the currently-not-so-loved book I’m reading and get it on the Book Exchange shelves in return. Everybody wins.

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