It seems every morning this week I’ve woken up to find one or more of my Facebook friends have updated their Facebook statuses to declare that they are participating in a book exchange for their kids and looking for 6 other willing participants to join in with the promise of receiving up to 36 books in exchange for sending one book.
It was obvious to me from first sight of it that it is a clear pyramid scheme and that is reason enough for me not to partake. However, this wouldn’t be much of a blog post if that was the extent of my insight and comment on this matter.
With more and more of my friends joining this exchange, I found myself tempted after all and checking my phone at 3.30am in a sleep deprived haze while rocking to sleep my sick toddler I found myself commenting on a friend’s post and saying sure, why not, I don’t mind buying your kid a book even if I don’t get anything back. Because at that time of the night that was the worse that I thought could happen as a result of joining in. But in the cold light of day I thought about it a bit more. It was still true that I was happy to buy a book for my friend’s child and it still wouldn’t have bothered me if my kids didn’t receive 6 or 36 books back in return. However, I started to think beyond what my involvement in the scheme would mean to me and to consider who else it might affect.
I am in the lucky position that I can afford to buy books for my children and my friends’ children and the kid across the street if I felt like it and most of my friends are in a similar position, at least the ones that would likely respond to a call to join in. But not everyone else is in this fortunate position; for many, books are a luxury and this kind of scheme may seem like too good an opportunity to miss. The problem is, getting something for nothing invariably means someone, somewhere has ended up with nothing after giving something. Getting 36 books for your one means for every one person who gets their windfall, 36 others end up with nothing and, unfortunately, it is likely to be those who can least afford to give that will end up at the bottom of the pyramid, unable to find enough people within their circle to make them whole.
It also got me wondering why people were so quick to buy into a scheme based on books when they would most likely stay clear of a cash based scheme. If someone updated their status to say “send me $10 and I promise you will get $360 back from other people” I doubt they would have as many enthusiastic volunteers.
Is it for a love of books? If so, join the library, it probably wouldn’t cost much more than a couple of books and you will get access to many more than 36 books. Not to mention the wonderful experience of being part of a community service, meeting other fellow book lovers and getting recommendations of books suited to you and your child. For those living in Dubai, The Old Library at DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates is lovely, it takes me back to my childhood when I was a regular at our local library, walking out with an armful of books every week, not even waiting till we got home to get stuck into the pages. They even have a story time every week which the little ones love. I want my kids to have these kinds of memories and experiences with books too.
If the library doesn’t appeal to you because you want to fill your child’s bookshelves to brimming with books they can keep without the associated price tag, how about second hand books? Here in Dubai there are lots of places you can get good quality second hand books for a fraction of the cost of new books. Feline Friends runs a second hand book stall at the regular Arte Makers Market, House of Prose is a second hand book store with branches in Jumeriah Plaza, The Dubai Garden Centre and The Change Initiative, and if you keep an eye out on various expat mums groups you will see lots of books for sale through decluttering and garage sales. I picked up lots of lovely second hand books in mint condition at bargainous prices from such a sale during the summer, including half the ones on that bookshelf above!
Is it to receive something in the mail? If so, exchange letters with family and friends abroad or get a penpal. Being an expat means you will have loved ones living in other countries, I’m sure there will be no shortage of people who would love to receive something in the mail from your child and will most likely be very happy to return the favour. Letter writing is a dying art and one that should be encouraged and preserved. Sure we have instant messaging and email but there really is nothing like the thrill of receiving a letter in the post, knowing that someone has taken time to write something especially for you, not a status update broadcast to the world generally or an email cc’d to all friends and family, but something just for you, addressed to you and mailed directly to you.
As a child and young adult I loved letter exchanges; I exchanged letters with a penpal in France (a largely unsuccessful attempt for each of us to practice our foreign language skills), wrote letters to friends I met at camp (sometimes even receiving lovely little presents in little packages) and the summer I spent working in the U.S. I exchanged letters and postcards with my sister and friends, being so far from everyone I treasured every single envelope and package received. Even when I moved to Dubai as a grown up, married woman and fully fledged member of the corporate working world, I still received lovely care packages from wonderful friends back home; beautiful postcards of London which I pinned to my office wall, delicious British chocolate – the taste of home, little notes showing me that even though I was out of sight I was not out of mind.
These are the kinds of things I want my kids to receive in the post; the kind of joy I want them to feel upon receiving packages in the mail. Not just books and gifts for books’ sake but something more thought out, something reciprocal; that is the true meaning of exchange after all.
A true book exchange is a lovely idea and something I would love to do with friends for our kids. This is how mine would work: Firstly, agree with a friend that you will each send 3 books to the other’s child during the course of the year. No agreed timetable, so whenever they arrive they will be a surprise. Have your child help choose the book to send to their book buddy. Have them write them a letter or draw a picture to go with it. Make it personal; make it a relationship; make it a friendship. Not just 36 nameless faces sending you a book and not knowing which of those have been left short with nothing to hand to their kid. I don’t think I could enjoy the books anyway (if i ever received them) knowing so many people must be left empty handed at the bottom of the pyramid.
Have you or your friends joined in this “book exchange”? Did it work for you, what do you think? Leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you.