What I Learnt From Giving Away My Books For Free

Any promise of free books is incredibly exciting to a book lover. Libraries, of course, play a vital part in the world of free books, as do borrowing books from friends and relatives. The casual words ‘oh, do you want a copy of ___?’ can create a momentary mental frenzy that may end up with accepting books you have no interest in reading. I am aware of these facts, and yet I was surprised by the response to me offering friends and colleagues some of my books for free.

I did it for practical reasons: I was moving soon and the small room I was moving out of was full of books, in piles and on the squeezed-in bookshelf and even less read books forming the base of my makeshift bedside table. My collection was not easily moveable. In addition to this, I knew I would keep getting books, because if my life so far has taught me anything, it’s that books will just keep appearing.

Weeding out books was fairly easy for me as I hate clutter. Anything that I was unlikely to reread and to which I had no ties making me keep it would be put on the list. It ended up a varied offering: I was just finished a Masters degree in Shakespeare and his fellow early modern writers, meaning that I had a number of drama collections to go alongside popular books of the last twenty years and Victorian novels and poetry left over from undergrad. I really wasn’t sure if anybody would want any of them. I posted the list on some of my social media, expecting a couple of bookish friends to ask for a couple and then maybe I’d take the rest to a charity shop.

I ended up giving away over 50 books. Coworkers from my theatre bar job asked for a wide selection, surprising me as these were people who I’d never discussed books with at all. I reconnected momentarily with old friends and coursemates who wanted things like the first Dirk Gently book and all of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series. I posted off packages of free books and I lugged books around in bags to their new owners. I didn’t ask for anything in return (though one person gave me a bar of chocolate in thanks). What I ended up getting was a different kind of reward: book excitement.

People were very thankful. They seemed amazed when I responded to their tentative ‘can I have this book?’ with a ‘yes, of course!’. They watched in delight as I pulled out four dogeared books from my bag and handed them over to be forced into their own bag. I didn’t tell people of my opinions of the books I was handing over though I’d read basically all of them, but instead let them make up their own mind. All I hoped was that if they didn’t enjoy them enough to keep them, they’d pass the book on further. Surely all books can find their forever home somewhere.

What I discovered was that far more of my friends wanted to engage with free books than I had imagined and they were all so grateful for them. I realised that I shouldn’t assume what kind of books people might want to read or whether they want to read at all. The people who suddenly get excited at a book of Jacobean plays are more varied than you might expect. Anyone might want that recent popular thriller. And by giving out these books for free, maybe you can give the chance to read either – or both – to somebody who hasn’t tried them out before.

I would highly recommend offering up your books to your wider social circle, even if you only have a few you’re willing to part with. Not only does it clear space, but it can teach you things about the people you know and maybe find new ways to connect with them.