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Trade my Mario for your Nigella?

Swappers gathered around the table

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Let’s face it: the economy isn’t getting any better. And even though I’m lucky enough to still be employed, I’m nonetheless counting my pennies just in case. Should I buy that afternoon coffee, or should I just make a cup? Is it smart to go out to dinner again, when I have perfectly good leftovers in the fridge? And do I really need another cookbook, especially when my shelves are already crammed?

That last question is what motivated me to organize a cookbook swap at a food event space that I help run. (To give credit where it’s due, the original idea came from a friend.) A cookbook swap offers two key benefits: one, it’s a great way to get some new (to you) titles, and two, it’s a good excuse to get rid of cookbooks you no longer have use for.

The success of a swap depends heavily on attendance, for more people means more books, and more books means more take-home options. So I emailed and tweeted everyone who I thought might have even a vague interest in coming. I brought plenty of my own books to serve as a base supply, put out some wine and light appetizers, and opened the doors. Pretty soon there was a small crowd of folks, all bearing relics from their libraries in the hopes of freshening their holdings.

It was so much fun – not only to look for new books, but to meet the people who brought them. The conversations around the table were great – there was plenty of reminiscing about food trends past (hello, microwave cooking!) and trashing of celebrity chefs we all love to hate. The older cookbooks offered some real laughs – like a roast chicken recipe that called for a whole chicken, a can of cranberry sauce, a jar of French dressing, and powdered onion dip mix. Gross! We also couldn’t help but notice how many vegetarian cookbooks there were…I suppose it’s something that many of us took on, and then abandoned. (We even had two copies of “The Accidental Vegan” – who knew it was such an easy trap to fall into?!?) Here’s the funny thing: whenever I saw someone pick up a book I had brought, I found myself telling the person why I liked it, how I came to own it, and why I was getting rid of it. I was basically “selling” my books; I guess I wanted them to find good homes!

Everyone who came walked away with at least one new book; there were a few leftovers too, so I’m donating them to the local thrift store. It was a fantastic event, required almost no work (or cash) to pull off, and was a great way to meet other cooks in the neighborhood. Now I think every community should hold a cookbook swap! Who’s next?


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  • Astilbe | 06/17/2009

    I think you had a brilliant idea!!!! I also find that visiting the library and scouring the shelves helps me reduce the number of books I end up actually buying. It's great to take them home and give them a really good read before making the decision to buy.

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