PaperBackSwap: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Most everyone in the world of books has heard about by now. For those who haven’t, the site is a way to trade books with others anywhere for free (well, for the cost of postage). When I first found out about the site I was ecstatic–the words FREE and BOOKS when connected have always held magical sway over my actions (for better or for worse).

And what I’ve discovered since signing up is that PaperBackSwap is a pretty great site in a lot of ways. Here are my findings:

The Good

  • The cost. It’s free to join, and it’s free to receive the books that you request. You do pay the cost of shipping your books to others, which is a bit of a pay-it-forward system, and since credits are typically exchanged on a 1-1 basis, I basically consider each book you order to cost about $2-3, since that’s how much I generally put into shipping one.
  • PaperBackSwap makes it dead easy to send a book to someone. When another user requests a book, you go through the online system which will calculate the cost of sending the book based on the weight associated with the ISBN. You can then print out a wrapper from home with the postage on it after you pay by credit card. And then you just wrap the book up with the postage showing and drop it in the mailbox. For extra protection I generally wrap my books in a manilla folder and tape it with packing tape. Here’s the video I learned this technique from.
  • All of my books have arrived in great condition. At this point I’ve probably received 5-7 books from PaperBackSwap, and while some of the books look a little newer than others when they arrive, they’ve all looked pretty good. No highlighting or underlining, which are some of my pet peeves. (The honor code rules of the site say that you shouldn’t send books with those qualities, nor those which are water-damaged, excessively worn, etc.) I like this policy, because it makes me happy to pass a book on again after I’ve received it from the system and read it.

The Bad

  • PaperBackSwap doesn’t have the most terribly user-friendly interface. In fact, I almost didn’t sign up when I first saw it. But I can assure you that it’s well worth your while to register, since most of the links and menu items on the website are things you won’t end up using anyway. The most important link is the Wish List, where you can look up the books that you’ve requested and how many people are ahead of you in line. When you want to add a book to your Wish List you can just use the search box to find it. And when you need to mail a book to someone, you’ll get an email with a link to the page where you can get the process started.
  • I mentioned waiting in line… okay, this is probably the toughest part of PaperBackSwap to handle. Getting a book from the website can take a really long time, depending on a few things. First of all, you have to think about the fact that it’s not Amazon, so what’s available is what people are finished reading and have on their bookshelves (though you can order books immediately through a system of credits and actual money combined). Also, true to its name, most books people send are paperbacks, since shipping is cheaper on those items than hardcover books. Audiobooks are available for more credits. In my experience the books that you’re most likely to get fastest are classics or books that were bestsellers but have been out for a little while. For instance, Middlesex was a book I’d been intending to read since it got popular, but I didn’t get around to looking for it until I joined PaperBackSwap a year ago. The wait was very short, and I believe I received the book in a week or two. Popular books that just came out or books that not very many people have read are harder to get for obvious reasons–high demand in the former case and scarcity for the latter. Despite the wait though, you can always add books to your wishlist and forget about the site for a while. It can be somewhat fun to check your status in line periodically on the Wish List. When a book becomes available that you signed up for you’ll get an email, and if you’ve already read the book by then you can simply say that you don’t want it anymore.
Wish List item

The Ugly

  • Oh, let’s be honest, it’s almost-free books. Where would The Ugly be?
  • Okay, okay maybe if I had to pick one thing I might move the waiting issue to here, since for some books it can be completely unlikely that you’ll ever get them in your lifetime.
  • Another thing that worries me a little is wondering if the site will survive in the age of e-books and e-readers? Will it become obsolete eventually? I’m not sure.

Overall, while PaperBackSwap might not be the site for you if you’re trying to get a book for your book club next week, it’s a great option for those ones that you’ll probably get to someday. And it adds some spice and surprise to reading when a book you’ve forgotten about becomes suddenly available. An example is that I should be getting Bossypants in the mail soon, which I had idly picked up in a bookstore the other day before deciding I didn’t need to buy it. Later that week PaperBackSwap emailed me to say the book had become available. Wish List success!

What have your experiences with PaperBackSwap been like?

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (Review)

Some books are hard to write reviews for because you’re afraid that what you publish won’t be anywhere near persuasive enough to get others to pick up the work when you really want everyone to read it. Redefining Realness is one of those books.

Janet Mock wowed me with her ability to create a cohesive and deeply self-reflective memoir of her personal experiences with gender identity, poverty, being multiracial, experiencing sexual abuse, and so much more. When she opened her book with a disclaimer that her experience is not “the” trans experience, but “a” trans experience, I knew I was going to appreciate what she had to say. She doesn’t write from a doom-and-gloom point of view, instead she is deeply unapologetic about the life she has led and the mistakes and bumps she’s had along the way. Yet at the same time, she doesn’t sugar-coat her life either. She is able to connect her own personal experiences to the spectrum of experiences that trans individuals may face, and identify the aspects that made her situation unique. In particular, her insights about how poverty impacts one’s ability to fully realize one’s gender identity were quite vivid.

In spite of the heavy issues at stake throughout the book, Mock also manages to create a story about family, connection, and love. She takes the focus away from what “parts” you have and draws you into the emotional importance of embodying your gender identity. Growing up in Hawaii, Oakland, and Dallas, Mock has unique experiences in each location related to her social fabric and her emotional welbeing. We see how important it was that Mock had a few very supportive friends and mentors in her life, particularly in Hawaii, that made her journey much easier, even while other factors of her personal circumstances created challenge.

I love that Mock punctuated the various sections of her book with words of wisdom from black literary gods such as Audre Lorde and Ralph Ellison. They help illustrate how her ethnic identity is critical and inseparable from her experiences with gender.

Beyond the weighty matters, Mock seems plain cool. Someone who you’d love to meet and who is clearly good at the work that she does. She’s willing to go after what she wants and needs, and I felt personally inspired by her courage and honesty. Do yourself a favor and pick up this book to put yourself temporarily in the shoes of one very impressive woman.


Wednesday Quote: Ralph Ellison

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself.

–Ralph Ellison

I read this beautiful quotation in Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, a story all about discovering, growing, and becoming. The words struck me in their truth and wisdom. I can’t remember at the moment whether I ever finished reading The Invisible Man, which is pretty shameful. I need to go and give that book the attention it deserves.
Check back Friday for my review of Redefining Realness!

5 Experiences Bookworms Can Relate To

We’ve all been here…

1) Trying to figure out how to walk and read a book at the same time. I mean really it’s just so much more efficient. And walking is so boring by itself…

From Welcome to Paradise

2) Checking out way too many books at the library (or buying way too many books). ALL the books.

From Gif Warehouse

3) Missing out on other pop culture experiences. Movies? Oh yeah, I watch those sometimes… You know, when it doesn’t interfere with my reading.

From Nightmare in Wonderland


4) Navigating the angst of choosing which book to read next. So. Many. Good books.

From Duke of Bookingham


5) Having real-life issues with fictional characters. Some of them you fall in love with, some of them make you angry as hell. But most importantly, you feel something for the people in the book.

From The Daily Harold

Got any others to add?

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Review)

Adichie seems to be getting a lot of buzz these days, and I wanted to read her work Americanah to see what she was all about. Plus, any novel where the protagonist is a blogger has to be entertaining.

I got everything I was looking for in Americanah. Adichie’s writing is engaging and self-reflective, as she takes us into the perspectives of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who lives in America for several years, and Obinze, her high school love who has a very different experience leaving Nigeria and living abroad in the U.K. The two are separated for many years until the both return to Lagos, Nigeria and reenter the same world again.

What I love Adichie for in this book is bringing microaggressions to light. For those who haven’t heard the term before a microaggression is a seemingly small racism or oppression that may happen on a regular basis–not enough to feel justified in getting angry or upset about, yet something which inspires just these emotions, especially when experienced over and over again. For example, Adichie talks about friends of her boyfriend exoticizing other cultures and Ifemelu’s home country of Nigeria. Adichie–through Ifemelu–isn’t afraid to examine these often-overlooked moments in fiction.

The novel also explored the broad spectrum of transnational experiences in a thoughtful way. We see how much one’s experience “making it” in Western countries has much to do with who you know, money, and luck. And personally, I haven’t read too many other fiction books that look at immigration from an African country, so it was great to see one such perspective.

I won’t spoil the love story by telling you whether Ifemelu and Obinze make it in the end, but I found their narrative and chemistry touching and realistic. Ifemelu is a bold, funny, and unapologetic female protagonist, which is refreshing, and Obinze is a considerate man who tries to juggle his morals while facing all manner of economic and social challenges.

The only part of this book that bothered me was the rapid success of Ifemelu’s blogs! I wish I could start a blog project one week and have hundreds of reader the next. Okay, I’m being a little tongue-and-cheek, and maybe it was a bit of a fictional tool… The fact that Adiche includes text from Ifemelu’s blogging keeps the story interesting and allows for a bit of a meta perspective.

I really enjoyed this read and highly recommend it. Also, I’m both excited and apprehensive that they’re making a movie out of the book. It better be good!