Not long ago, the Chicago Reader, this fair city's alternative newsweekly, hosted an amazing event that I knew I would attend the second I learned of it: the Chicago Reader book swap.
It was held in a bar. (I. Know. Books --free books -- and a bar. What more does one need?) The bar turned out to be appropriately gritty and the rules were simple: bring books, take books. Actually, you could do only one of those and not both if you so chose. They simply asked that you take no more than fifteen. It was amazing.
People (and their books) kept coming for three hours. Workers/volunteers did a quick, major-category sorting of the books, which a runner would then take into the other room, between the bar and the stage, to place on the appropriate table ("Fiction," "History," "Religion/Philosophy/Spirituality" etc.) There were good, cheap beers on tap, and the literary classics and fiction tables would be cleared within minutes of a new pile of books appearing upon them.
I was in heaven.
What I gave up:
(the first two all too eagerly)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
What I got:
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yehoshua
The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo
Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris
Angelica by Arthur Phillips
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
including a couple mass markets
Cuba by Stephen Coonts
Setting Free the Bears by John Irving
The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism by Robert Coles
To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski
Captive Audience by Dave Reidy
Among Warriors in Iraq: True Grit, Special Ops, and Raiding in Mosul and Fallujah by Mike Tucker
MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero by Stanley Weintraub