Book exchanges are fast becoming my favorite thing. I’ve done a few, and each one turns out more fun than the last. The prep stages are truly almost as much fun as the actual event. There’s a lot to ponder up front to make sure the tone is right for any exchange.
Themes are usually first, since that will dictate book, goodie bag, and who will want to come. When picking a theme for these events, I try to think of topics with built-in learning opportunities. Any systemic, societal problem will do. Or any norms that need to be challenged because we’ve gotten used to them are also good topics. Sometimes though, you just need a break from the hard stuff and from trying to fix the world’s problems to focus on the happy stuff. It’s a matter of sanity and of self-care! ‘Happy books’ was a topic I was excited to introduce because for the first time, we’d have a no stress topic. I usually get questions like, “Does this qualify for [insert topic]?” “Is this mental-health-y/feminist-y enough?” People are generally unsure. However, no one had questions on what a happy book was. No one needed “feel-good” defined. The only issue we did have was that most everyone wanted to bring Harry Potter. We are all a product of our time, and we are truly living in the prime of a Harry Potter generation. No complaints though. RAVENCLAW FOREVER!!
The idea of a feel-good/happy theme was also an excuse for me to re-read one of my favorite books.
Fin and Lady was the book I most wanted to bring, and I knew right away. I had actually planned this swap in my head with this book in mind. I’ve caught feelings from a few books in my day, but this one has a place of honor in my heart. It’s a sibling story; those always get to me because I have wonderful relationships with my siblings. It fills my little heart right up to see any kind of sibling support.
It is so much more though. Sibling stuff is just the start.
Fin is young when the book opens, about eleven. Lady, his sister, is in her mid-twenties. They are half siblings, really; same dad, different moms. Their dad and Lady’s mom have both already died when the book opens. The story opens on Fin’s mother’s funeral. With this most recent parent death, Lady is the only adult left between the two. We come to find out she’s really not much of an adult at all. Fin is technically her ward now, but who really does the parenting is up for debate. Lady is wild, reckless, erratic, and deeply emotional. She’s also ethereal, worldly, daring, and charming. The perfect blend of every
“It Girl” who ever was. The best of Zelda Fitzgerald, Edie Sedgewick, Marilyn Monroe…. I want to know her, but more than that, I want to be her. I didn’t underline anything in my reading since I was going to give the book away. If I had, I’d have underlined every last bit of Lady’s dialogue. That’s how much I love her. She cares for Fin, but in her own aloof way. She’s not sure how to mother him, so he kind of mothers her. There’s a lot of love in their tiny family, but deep misunderstandings that outweigh good intentions on nearly every page. It’s got a ton of heart, but the hearts are broken wide open at all times.
I love a sibling story. I love a young person being wise beyond his years story. Mostly, I love a destructive woman, being herself, thinking she’s living her best life, but unwittingly destroying that life and breaking the hearts of people all around her. The very best of these women are loved deeply despite the desolation they leave behind.
Of course I had to bring Lady.
The book does end happy though. No spoilers. 🙂
Picking a book was the easy part! Getting the guest list together is always a struggle.
Inviting new friends to events is intimidating. Even more so for me when those events are central to the core of my being. Just knowing that if these new people don’t enjoy and appreciate my event, that my very soul has the potential to dissolve from sadness makes it hard to ask. This is me being dramatic; this is my insanity and obsessive personality breaking through all the protective layers I’ve put around my sensitive heart. This is also how much I love what I’m doing. This is me being heavily in love with reading and wanting to share that love of literature in all the ways I can; in the most interesting ways I can.
Obviously, I was nervous to invite new girls to this exchange. New girls came to the last one, yes; but those girls were firmly in my life already; they just hadn’t been to a book thing yet. The fears about them having a good time were still there. However, I knew they understood me and had an idea of what to expect. They’d forgive any missteps or outbursts that occurred at the exchange. New people do not know the obsessive being within my calm, cool, and well-dressed exterior. *Jokes aside it was nerve-wracking, but well worth it! The event was a beautiful success and I think the newer folks had an especially good time. Being pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t awful and awkward.
Jumping back to prep work: Once the guest list was settled, it was time for GIFTS! *confetti cannon*
Buying goodie bag treats is maybe my favorite activity leading up to any exchange. Etsy shopping has become my downfall. I’m amazed at the incredible stuff I can get online that’s actually got a person behind it! My other downfall is that I always accidentally buy something from across the world. Anyone else?
Don’t know how that happens, but it always takes ages for my stuff to come in. This time I put a US filter on all items, so I was sure to get them in time. You live, you learn.
Something that I always have in my bags is little pins. I have an irrational obsession with enamel pins (and toast for those who know me well.) There’s honestly a pin for everything (and all kinds of toppings for toast.) I once saw a pin that said, “I never wash my hair!” Now, I actually never wash my hair, but I did not imagine I would ever find a pin so specific to my lack of hygiene habits. For the feel-good books, I just wanted happy suns or smiley faces or something. I found all that, but I also found beautiful gemstones that say “you’re a gem” on the package. They were bright and cute and perfect. Also pineapple pins, which are kind of the sun of the fruit world anyway.
The book marks I found to use as bag stuffers, were also happy and vibrant and perfect. They’re covered in lemons and succulents. Some even have fake wine stains 🙂 Wine always makes me happy. Scrolling through Etsy trying to find the cutest stuff is such a fun aspect of my exchanges. Try and find this stuff at Target, you won’t! You will find a million cute things you don’t need, and buy them all anyway. But personalized pins and bookmarks won’t be among them. Disclaimer, I did buy tea, mason jars, and candy at Target. Sorry Target, you’re the best. I love you.
Not only do I buy the hand-made stuff, I’ve been trying to make the hand-made stuff myself. Or have friends do the leg work for me. For the feminist exchange I had my best friend make tiny hammers out of clay so we could all ‘smash the patriarchy.’ For the mental health one, she made clay worry stones so we could all worry in a productive manner; with a carefully made stone and not fast food or drinking or crying at work.
Pinterest scrolling for hand-made gift ideas returned a lot of painted rocks. They looked fun and super easy. I am here to tell you, they were not easy. Puff paint is not kind nor is it forgiving. I also do not have the skill to wield a tiny paintbrush across a tiny rock surface.
My painted rocks are messy, but still kind of cute. In a way that ugly dog contests still have reasonably cute dogs.
Regardless of how pretty the rocks were, everyone seemed to really love them. Gift bags were a huge hit. As were all the books, as was the restaurant we brunched at. (Ida Claire in Dallas – Go there now if you’ve never been.)
This is starting to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, “Look at these wonderful gifts.” “Look how good I am at throwing parties!” That’s not what I mean to say. I mean to say when you have a lot of heart, people can tell. Everyone knew I wanted them to have a good time. Everyone knew this was my thing and I loved doing it. It’s a simple set up, really. We had amazing food, everyone had a happy, upbeat book, and we got presents after. What’s not to like? That’s not really me throwing a good party, that’s a bunch of girls who enjoy each other’s company talking about good books. It’s about the books. It’s always about the books. The bags, and food, and stress over guest list is just my love language. Just my way of sweetening the pot and thanking people for getting on board with my obsession. This is still about reading and sharing language. Listening to girls talk about what they brought and sharing that connection is why I do it, and why I think people like coming. I adore my book. I have for years, and I think about it almost daily. I needed to share it. To have someone know and love Lady like I do. We had two other books that were brought where the girls said something along the lines of, “This book helped me when I needed it.” Or, “I related to this book when nothing else was relatable.” That is why I do this. Sharing that kind of important reading connection is why I started the blog. It’s why I host my exchanges. It is why I have literary tattoos. I live my life for these reading connections and to hear stories about why we gravitate to literature. These exchanges are mini parties sure. I do a lot of work upfront to get ready for them, yeah. But it’s because of the connections made in the pages we’ve brought. I hope everyone walked away loving their pins and flowers. But I hope even more that they walked away with a book that makes them happy. And that knowing the story behind why the book made its way to the swap makes their heart glow.