International book exchange brings students together


Photo courtesy Defne Aslan

An advertisement for the international book exchange made by participant Lara Nobleman to post on her Instagram story and spread the word about the swap.

By Defne Aslan

Sophomore Yuxi Apel caught a glimpse of the UPS worker walking by her window and wandered downstairs to check what had arrived at her front porch. When she opened the front door, she found a small package carefully wrapped in last Sunday’s comics and immediately knew what it was. 

“I sent you my favorite book and I hope you love it just as much as I did! Write me back what you think of it,” read a note attached to the package. 

Since the beginning of the year, fliers calling for book lovers to participate in a worldwide book exchange have circulated through students’ social media feeds, especially on Instagram stories. 

“I’m looking for people to participate in a huge book exchange,” read the flier. “All you have to do is choose your favorite book and send it to a stranger.”

To participate in the exchange, people responded to one of the fliers on Instagram, and the person who posted it would send them the address and name of a random person involved in the exchange. Participants mail a book of their choice — along with a hand-written note — to their randomly assigned recipient. 

“I saw it on my friend’s story, and the address she gave me belonged to the person she heard about the exchange from,” junior Margot Rojas said. “To keep the cycle going, I had to post the notice on my own story, and I shared my friend’s address with those who expressed interest and gave them my own so they could keep the line going.”

Eventually, participants will get back any number of books from others who follow the same process. There isn’t anyone “in charge,” orchestrating the exchange behind the scenes; it relies solely on promotion by its participants. 

Apel saw the advertisement on a friend’s Instagram story and decided to give the book exchange a chance. 

“I used to spend as much time reading as I do watching Netflix now,” Apel said. “This project seemed like a really good way to get back into reading.”

Apel joined the book swap in April by mailing one of her favorite books that she thought anyone would enjoy: a memoir entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. Almost two months later, Apel has received three novels from teenagers in Maine, Washington and even the United Kingdom. From fantasy novel “Game of Thrones” to the young adult romance novel “All the Bright Places,” Apel has broadened her reading selection to include genres she had never read before and books she never would have thought to pick up.

“I received a book called ‘Normal People’ from someone in another country that I probably wouldn’t have thought to get from a library here,” Apel said. “I loved it, and I’m excited to see what happens next.” 

For sophomore Lara Nobleman, the idea of an international book exchange was intriguing to her, especially while quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I knew immediately that I wanted to participate because I love reading,” Nobleman said. “With so much time on my hands because of the virus, I thought it would be such a fun thing to do.”

She sent two polar opposite books to two different people in New York and Maine: John Green’s young adult fiction “An Abundance of Katherines,” and “The Outsider,” a classic Stephen King horror novel. Two months after she mailed her own books, Nobleman had received four: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead, “The School of Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani and, her personal favorite, “Akin” by Emma Donoghue. 

Unlike Nobleman and Apel, some students were skeptical. Rojas wondered whether she would receive a book in return after taking the time to mail one of her own. Her skepticism turned into surprise when, just a few weeks after posting about the exchange on her Instagram account, she received three books in the mail — her favorite being comedian Trevor Noah’s autobiography, “Born a Crime.”

“I was so happy to receive this book by Trevor Noah because he is a prominent voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, which is so relevant,” Rojas said. “The person who sent it to me from a different part of the country spread awareness about the movement in a really creative way.” 

Although the concept of a book exchange isn’t new, the internet and social media have made it easier than ever to connect with people from all over the world and organize exchanges as expansive as this one. Through the COVID-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter protests, complete strangers from around the country and the world have found unity through their favorite books.

The exchange allows people to not only share their love of reading, but more importantly their cultures and values through literature, Nobleman said.

“I connected with people from all over the country,” Nobleman said. “With every single book I received, I made a new friend.”