My family didn't have much money and our small town library only had a few science fiction titles, so we swapped books. Lots and lots of books.
One of my neighbors and a few of my dad’s friends were voracious readers and every month or so, Dad would bring home a grocery bag filled with dog-eared paperbacks. The bags exuded that wonderful aroma of musty-dusty shelves and old paper. For me, the bags were equal parts reality and magic. Every cover was a doorway to distant lands, new sights, and new adventures. Grocery bags brought Heinlein, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Bradbury, Eric Frank Russell and so many others into my home and my imagination.
I can still remember my delight when I pulled the first head-to toe (tête-bêche) book from the bag. The back cover of the first book was actually the front cover of the second book, but rotated 180 degrees. How cool was that?
Because so many people contributed to the bag, the contents often included a mixture of other titles and genera. Sometimes there was a paperback classic such as Ivanhoe, a Western horse opera or two, Doc Savage stories, or a Mickey Spillane book. Special bags would have one or two yellowed copies of pulp SciFi magazines like Astounding or Amazing Stories. I don’t know if it was my imagination or reality, but the older yellowed books always seemed lighter than the newer books.
With this sharing program, I always had five or ten books waiting for me. I read the books and returned them to the bag. When the bag was full, I swapped it with my neighbor for a bag of his books. My dad would take my neighbor’s books and swap them with his friends. I never really knew how far this sharing circle extended, but I was grateful for its existence.
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