Design

The Great Book Swap

Alfred Hitchcock reading a book

A few weeks ago I saw an Instagram story by Eva Chen, where she and her husband swapped their favorite books. Isn’t that a cool idea? Would you ever do it? After all, a book can take you on an epic inner journey that’s almost impossible to share with someone who hasn’t read it too — like when you try to retell a dream out loud. (Um, you had to be there.) Curious to attempt it ourselves, Alex and I chatted last night and figured out the six books we’d swap…

Alex’s books (for me to read)

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
“This 1989 memoir — about a boy and his mom driving through the West in post-war America — is a poignant coming-of-age story, but it also touches on a theme so obvious that few male writers think about capturing it: their deep friendship with their mother. The writing is lyrical, yet funny, and it illuminates childhood hopes and dreams without making them seem saccharine. No wonder everyone started writing memoirs after this. It’s one of my all-time favorites (and part of the reason I was drawn to the name Toby!). I think you’d find it to be a great example of what goes on in the minds of boys.”

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker
“I think you’d like all of Steven Pinker’s books, especially The Blank Slate. Pinker is one of American academia’s bright lights, and the first half is what you’d expect from a Harvard professor. There is a lot of brain science, which is interesting, but also pretty skimmable if you just want to push on to the fascinating stuff. In the second half, Pinker takes on the age-old question: nature vs. nurture. He examines gender, violence, children, the arts, you name it. It would be fun to discuss together.”

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
“How can a story so dark be so light? Jim Carroll came of age on the mean streets of New York in the ’60s, but it’s amazing how he manages to make stories about petty thievery, drug use and hustling, well, hilarious. The narrative has a serious takeaway for sure (in short: don’t do heroin), but along the way, it’s a screamingly funny street rap that captures the underside of New York when it was still basically a city without rules. I want you to read it because it’s a great ode to the gritty old New York I fell in love with as a kid, long before Friends and Seinfeld. (P.S. Skip the movie; it’s terrible.)”

My books (for Alex to read)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
While I like reading new releases that everyone’s buzzing about, Alex doesn’t usually turn to the bestseller list for ideas. But this is one book I don’t think he should miss. The plot follows the stories (in alternating chapters) of a blind 14-year-old French girl, Marie Laure, and a German orphan, Werner, who are each trying to survive World War II in France and ultimately cross paths. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, so you’re always on the edge of your seat. After I finished it, I told Alex, you have to read this, it’s so good. And he said, Great, I will. And I was like, Haha, no you won’t. He just won’t end up reading it, I know him. So I’d love to MAKE him read it. I know he would be blown away and thank me profusely.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
When I was in my twenties, I went through a big graphic novels phase. I would hang out in comic stores and attend Comic-Con; I once trailed Adrian Tomine around a record store for like a half hour but couldn’t get up the nerve to say anything. But one book that stood out was Persepolis, which tells author Marjane Satrapi’s story of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution through her charming black-and-white illustrations and powerful dialogue. It’s so important to learn about other perspectives and cultures, especially now, and this book is one small (and beautiful) step toward that.

Shrill by Lindy West
The hilarious feminist writer Lindy West’s collection of personal essays about growing up in America is one of the best things I read last year. Periods! Sexism! Fat shaming! Alex would get such a funny, honest inside peek into what it’s really like to be a woman — more than just buying me tampons sometimes at the drugstore.

Jane Birkin reading

Thoughts? Would you trade books with your partner — or friend, parent or sibling? Which books would you want to share?

P.S. Keeping the spark alive and three more favorite books.

(Photos of Hitchcock and Jane Birkin via Awesome People Reading.)

  1. I’ve been talking for years with my husband about each reading the other’s favorite book. Finally we agreed to do it. I read The Master and Margarita (which I enjoyed, despite it ending up, justly, on this list: http://the-toast.net/2015/05/12/books-that-literally-all-white-men-own/); he read one chapter of Pride and Prejudice before stopping and never starting again. (To be fair, he claims I’ve made him watch the BBC miniseries version so often that he knows every plot twist already.)

  2. Swapping books is such a great idea. I did this exact thing with a boyfriend once (it was his idea, and we did it a week into the relationship) – I gave him A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, and he gave me The Magus by John Fowles. We both absolutely loved each others’.

    I also loved All the Light We Cannot See, incidentally. I’m desperate to go to St Malo now.

    Lulu
    http://www.babycradleandall.com

  3. Katherine says...

    My cousin and I started our own exclusive bookclub when we went to college. Each month we send each other a book that is on our own book list. Then the next month, we swap! If we hated the book, then it doesn’t get passed on and a new book gets sent along. It’s one of our favorite facets of our long distance best friendship– and it keeps us reading and talking, and trying books we may not have picked up ourselves!

  4. Emma says...

    I just had my first baby and have been reading like CRAZY because what else are you going to do when you still haven’t learned to sleep through every little noise a new born makes? I recently read “Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story” and loved it! It’s a memoir about a man who literally is roommates with his grandfather (a crazy old man from Lithuania) his whole life. It sad, funny, and heartwarming all at the same time. I keep trying to get my husband to read it, but he said he doesn’t have to since I already told him every story in that book while I was reading it!

  5. Tristen says...

    I met my beloved in a bar, while on a date with another guy. The guy he was with knew the guy I was with, so we all shared a table. Somehow, the friends had a side conversation while he and I had a side conversation, which somehow ended up with me asking, “Have you read Sex at Dawn?” To which he, shockingly, replied, “Actually, I have.” From then there was no stopping us, we just had to keep talking about monogamy and the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. Super romantic, I know, but it worked! Five years and one kid later, we’re still swapping stories.

  6. Kali says...

    Before a vacation, my fiance and I each pick a book that we’ll both read. It’s a great way to spark new conversations and I always find it so interesting to see which parts of the books we each respond to, or if we interpret things the same way.

  7. Yes to All the Light We Cannot See!!! I love it! Anthony Doer is a phenomenal story-teller. To be honest, it started off a little slow for me, but I’m *so* glad I stuck with it!

    xo, Sofia
    http://www.thecozie.co

  8. Danielle says...

    My fiance is not a reader & it absolutely kills me… and when I say not a reader, I mean he swears that he’s never read a novel in its entirety, even for school! He’s an orthopedic surgery resident & I JUST convinced him to try “Cutting for Stone” a few weeks ago because I truly believe he will love it. So far so good, but he’s slow! :)

  9. My fiance and I share a top 5 favorite book: Lonesome Dove! I read it right after he did (he was obsessed the whole time!) and now we recommend to all of our friends. It’s one of those books that truly cuts across genders and ages and places, and hooks you in.

    • AuntHo says...

      My SO and I were shocked to discover the same when we started dating. My dad and I read it together when I was a teenager. And then after we connected over it, the Significant found a first edition for my birthday the first year we were together. Not too shabby sir.

      Love your description, and I’ll add that the movie is a classic, great way to spend a rainy day together.

    • Totally agree! Just love this book (& movie). So did my husband.

  10. Too funny! I read “All The Light You Cannot See” last fall and I loved it so much too. I told my husband, “You have to read this book!” Unfortunately, it is still sitting on his bedside table… BUT! I also told my Mom about it and she enjoyed it so much she told my Dad that he had to read it – and he did! He really liked it too.

    I’m looking forward to checking out the other books on your list as well :)

  11. Amy says...

    My hubby and I have done the same thing with movies. Every Saturday we try and alternate a movie the other has never seen. He’s much more high brow than me. My fav of his? Harold and Maude. His fav of mine? Clueless!

  12. Man, I’m not sure what books I’d make my husband read – we have such different interests, I don’t know if any would peak his interest like they do me. He only reads the news or sports articles, and I finally (FINALLY!) got him to start reading books with me before bed. I found a hiking memoir (kind of like Wild, but for guys), and surprise, surprise, he loves it! He asked me the other night if I wanted to get in bed to read, and it basically MADE MY LIFE. He keeps interrupting my reading to read me a funny line or story in his book. I guess you’re never too old to fall in love with something!
    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  13. May says...

    I met my husband on a plane in 91, many years ago! We spent 2 days together, then we went on to our respective countries (continents) and had a long distance relaionship for 6 years. During those 2 days he made me a list of books I should read, I read them all, loved them, and decided that I should marry the guy! A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Kundera were on the list.

  14. My boyfriend and I have done this, but a caveat: it’s always sooooo disappointing when the other person doesn’t love the book as much as you do. He read one of my favorites of all time, In the Woods, and was kind of meh about it; I tried to read one of his favorites, The Road, and got bored a chapter in. We each understand why the other wasn’t drawn in by the books after the fact however, so I think you also need to consider the ways in which your partner is different from you and their personal tastes when choosing a book for them. I like that we’re different from each other!

  15. My husband’s currently reading Finnegan’s Wake, so I think I’ll wait til he’s on to his next book before we swap!

  16. Em says...

    My favorite referral for guys was my number one for over a decade…A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin (NOT THE MOVIE – it was crushingly awful and completely mis-cast!!!!).

  17. Krissy says...

    My husband and I swap books a lot! We both love to read but our tastes are very different. On his recommendation, I’ve read: Dune, Game of Thrones, The Sparrow, Conan the Barbarian, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and The Wheel of Time series and many others. I’ve recommended: In the Woods by Tana French, Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, The Witch of Cologne.

  18. Nicole says...

    My boyfriend and I are both English teachers, so we do this naturally, but I actually find it really enjoyable to read books together so we can talk our way through them together and bounce thoughts and interpretations off one another. The most enjoyable read we had together was Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence – so much more than a love story.

  19. Margaret says...

    I recently was at a little used bookstore looking for The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The shop keeper told me about a couple who had just gotten married and everyone in the wedding party had to bring their favorite book for a book exchange. They knew that someone important to the couple enjoyed the book. I thought that was such a sweet gesture of love.

  20. MS says...

    My husband and I read books aloud together, and it’s something I really cherish. We’ve done awesome kids/YA books (the Harry Potter series and Peter Pan being some of our favorites), a lot of sci fi/fantasy (really enjoyed Ready Player One) and anything else that sounds good or is appealing to one or both of us. One of my absolute favorites that we read together (after I read it alone and loved it) and that I recommend to others is Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. It’s such a fun book to read and think about, and those are the best kind to be able to discuss!

  21. Jo says...

    We already do this, and I love that we both read something we wouldn’t have picked out ourselves, and it feels like we have our own little book club of two.

    Last year my husband had me read:

    The Beach (sooo good)
    The Beautiful and Damned (eh)
    Catch me if you can (such a page turner)

    Up next is The Basketball Diaries…

    He read (that I picked out):

    The Girls (I had him read Helter Skelter a few years ago and thought he’d enjoy this but never pick it up himself because of the title)

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (one of my all time favorites)

    When Breath Becomes Air (Thanks for sharing about your brother in law’s beautiful and sad, yet strong memoir Joanna. At a young age my husband’s mother passed away from lung cancer, and I knew that it took my husband a few tries to get started and allow himself to When Breath Becomes Air I had us both crying, smiling and thinking through out. It was definitely the most touching reads of 2016!)

  22. My husband and I constantly swap books though I tend to read his more than he reads mine. I was looking over his shoulder all the time he was reading Wolf Hall and practically snatched it from his hands. But our favourite books are quite different on the whole. We share a love of David Copperfield, Three Men in a Boat, The Diary of a Nobody, Lucky Jim and he got me into reading all the Patrick O’Brian books some years ago. I, however, cannot tolerate Gabriel Garcia Marquez and he won’t read whodunits.

    • natasha says...

      I love Wolf Hall so much and have yet to manage to get my boyf to read it. Although he’s a reader he’s resistant to anything too overtly historical or sci-fi. It probably doesn’t help that I’d previously recommended A Place of Greater Safety, which he didn’t admire or find amusing. (I’d recommend it to you- it’s almost as fine as wolf Hall).

  23. LindyO says...

    So true the male and female book lists seem to have dotted lines between them. Just read The Mothers recently and totally enjoyed it. I think the secret is not to discuss too much about the book while reading it. Bought All The Light today for BOTH of us. Will keep you posted.

  24. Maelle says...

    Joanna, did you know that Persepolis was made into an animated movie as well? I loved the book and watched the movie and thought it was perfect; Marjane Satrapi did all the drawings so it really is her style. And it’s a great way to get someone who might be a bit reluctant started on the book ;)

  25. Elizabeth says...

    Thank you x1,000,000 for plugging Shrill. It is such a good, honest, funny book, and it helped me, as a plus-size woman, reclaim a piece of my humanity.

  26. Love this! When I first started dating my current SO he gave me some of his favorite books to read which was a nice way to get to know him. Please promise you’re going to update us on this experiment because I’d love to hear Alex’s take on Shrill.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a fun way to get to know someone new, I love that.

  27. Tracy says...

    Mine reads great books BUT the are sad and dark. He suggests I read The Road and World War Z. I’d like him to read 100 Years of Solitude and 11 Minutes (my fav Coelho novel)

  28. My spouse and I do this naturally; I finish Men Explain Things to Me and pass it to him in bed and he adds it to his stack. We’re always talking about the books we read in common. Of course we have our distinct tastes too. But I love reading a book while anticipating his reading it; it somehow makes the process that much more enjoyable.

  29. Julie says...

    No way would I do this with my husband. I would die of boredom (or at least fall asleep) while trying to read his faves. LOL

    • jen says...

      Exactly. He reads Harry Potter and Gome of Thrones. I read everything else.

    • Alexandra says...

      Yep, same here. He reads history books about WWII and the Vietnam War.
      I like a good novel. We do agree on the classics, which we both love: Hemingway, Steinbeck and Jack London.

  30. Kate says...

    Our relationship went through long distance phases for years, before smart phones and face time. We read copies of the same book during these stretches for a shared experience. Highly recommend!

  31. Erin G says...

    This mom of two boys just added “This Boy’s Life” to her reading list. Thanks for another inspirational post.

  32. Riye says...

    Sadly, my bf is not a reader. We do “swap” art though. He’s a graphic designer so he’s always looking at illustrations, drawings, paintings, etc. I’m a ceramist so I prefer to look at 3-D pieces. We recommend things to each other all the time and talk about what we like. It can get heated sometimes because we have different tastes but its fun. :-)

  33. Jo! If you love graphic novels – there is so much really interesting writing happening in the world of comics now, beyond Marvel and DC. You absolutely must check out Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (a beautiful, haunting, feminist writer). Also if you’re not afraid of adult themes – Monstress by Marjorie Liu is great, as is I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young and Saga by Brian K. Vaughn.

  34. Good idea, but I have absolutely no interest in ‘The History of Margarine’ and he probably wouldn’t enjoy ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’.

  35. Kate says...

    My husband and I read out loud to each other every night. It started when he was helping me read a book in French and it was so nice we just kept going. We’ve devoured all the David Sedaris books, James Herriot’s books, All the Light We Cannot See, and so many others. Now we are working on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books about his foot-journey across Europe in the 30s. Gorgeous descriptions!

    • Val says...

      Yay! Another Patrick Leigh Fermor fan! You would also like Eric Newby. I highly recommend a short walk in the Hindukush.

  36. Sydney says...

    My budget is pretty tight this year and I am always looking for inexpensive but thoughtful gifts. This seems like a great way to celebrate valentines day this year! Funnily enough This Boys Life might be what I recommend to him.

  37. AB says...

    Joanna, did you really go to Comic Con? lol. More on that pls.

    • I agree! Especially if you dressed up. Cosplay is for everyone!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha yes! and i was so into it :) thankfully there are no pics haha.

  38. Sinds says...

    As one of their New Year’s resolutions, my sister in law and her husband created their own “Book Club”, where they each pick 3 of their favorite books to have the other read. Once one person finishes a book, they go out to a nice dinner to discuss it! They are both writers and voracious readers, and I would love to just be a fly on the wall for their discussions.

    My fiancé and I definitely recommend books to each other all the time (okay fine, I shove my favorites into his hands over and over again…). Although my fiancé is not as big of a reader as I am, almost every book he’s recommended to me (The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss) have been phenomenal.

  39. Katie H. says...

    I recently finished All the Light We Cannot See, and I told my husband the exact. same. thing. I’m not sure if he’ll ever pick it up, so it would be great to make him. I’m also really interested in This Boys Life based on Alex’s recommendation, so adding it to my reading list!

  40. Carrie says...

    I think I am the only person to have read All the Lights We Cannot See and not totally loved it! I feel like such an outsider! It was just so slow for me, I don’t know why!

    A few months ago I read America’s First Daughter and I highly recommend it! My favorite of 2016 for sure!

    • t says...

      I didn’t love All The Light We Cannot See. I mean it was good enough but once I finished it I didn’t give it much thought. It didn’t have much impact on me. We can be outsiders together and I will certainly give America’s First Daughter a go.

  41. Ali S says...

    My husband and I exchanged our (then) favorite books when we first started dating as high-schoolers. I gave him The Handmaid’s Tale and he gave me a great sci-fi (the messages stuck, the title didn’t).

    This morning, I finished Mornings in Jenin, which is the third book we’ve shared since then. He read it as part of preparing to visit Palestine later this year, and said I had to too. I’m so glad I did. It’s one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read. I’m devastated and inspired, and looking into informing myself much more on the region and seeing how I can understand and help. The writing itself was so beautiful and fluid, and the story will stay with me forever.

    This is a lovely reminder that we can keep sharing what we read with each other.

  42. cooper says...

    I asked my husband if he’d be interested in doing this, and he excitedly gave me a list of comic books I should read! Guess I’ll be branching out into a new genre, haha!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha that’s so funny!

  43. Meryl Judith says...

    Joanna, you’re the best. The posts are so solid, every day, every year. Adding This Boy’s Life and All the Light to my reading list.
    I’m a jaded book swap skeptic but would totally try it for Cup of Jo.

  44. Mary Beth says...

    Book clubs and swaps are the best. Another online sort of idea might be to have readers share their ‘Best of’ lists from different fiction genres – mystery, romance, suspense, science fiction and so forth. One of the things I really enjoy in January are all of the Best of 2016 lists that come out on reading websites I follow. The commenters on Cup of Jo have always seemed to me to be so interesting, varied and smart. I would love to read their Best of lists from different genres. Also, I adore your book discussion posts – reading is my joy.

  45. mosey says...

    These look like great book ideas!
    My husband and I share book ideas with each other once in a while, but our tastes are quite different. He likes to dive into the very dark and I… can’t handle dark.
    Love your graphic novel suggestion. I went through a small graphic novels phase in my mid twenties and LOVED “Goodbye, Chunky Rice” by Criag Thompson.

  46. Sabrina says...

    My husband and I did this when we were dating. Though, I have to admit as the years go by we really don’t like the same types of books. We are both big readers, so it’s hard to take a break from books we enjoy to read things we don’t care for at all.
    He like fantasy, Manga, and Asian super heroes & gods (I don’t know what genre that is, but he loves it!)
    I like women’s literature and historical fiction. He calls them “depressing books”. He’s a little right, my books do deal with tough and sometimes heartbreaking subjects.
    Although, we often share things we are liking about our books and that seems to do the trick for us.

  47. Meredith says...

    If you loved “All the Light we Cannot See” you must read “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. It is not only moving and powerful, but so beautifully written. You will be glad you added it to your list :)

  48. Great choices on both sides! I love “All The Light We Cannot See” and anything by Tobias Wolff. The three I’d swap are Jane Eyre (because it’s my all-time favorite), American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (because I find that I already recommend it to everyone), and It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario (because she is incredible).

    Also, I love the idea of the Cup of Jo reader book swap!

    Briana
    http://www.youngsophisticate.com

  49. Lauren E. says...

    I’m sending Alex’s list to my husband! I think he’d love all of them.

    I’ve been begging my husband since we met to read Slouching Toward Bethlehem in its entirety but he STILL hasn’t done it. I think I’ll offer to read the Bruce Springsteen autobiography if he’ll read Joan for me :)

  50. I did this fairly early on with my boyfriend, but we just exchanged one book each.

    And the one he gave me? Persepolis! I LOVE that book!

  51. Oh my goodness, almost every one of these sounds AMAZING!! I have been in a book lull, making poor choices for my true interests. I have gotten some amazing recommendations lately! I recently stepped out of my comfort zone and read a Sci-fi book called Dark Matter. It was very “twilight zone” and thought provoking. I passed it on to my husband who also enjoyed it and then we gifted it to my husband’s best friend for Christmas! Sharing is almost more fun than the reading itself!

  52. Molly says...

    My husband and I have started swapping books! If we’re out for dinner we’ll occasionally drop into a used bookshop afterwards and pick out a couple books. He’ll read one and I’ll read the other, then we’ll swap. It’s fun to get to know the same characters and discuss the books.

  53. Jean says...

    Very tangentially, one year I gave up reading for pleasure for lent. This was huge for me and has forever changed me in unexpected ways. One but not the only thing it changed was a more accurate BS detector. I lost the ability to loose myself in fiction, regardless where it came from. So every candidate and president since Clinton shows up extremely strong on the BS radar. I think I’d like Alex’s picks now. (Although I liked (not loved) All the Light We cannot See.)

  54. CATHERINE says...

    I’m with you on Persepolis, but I need to push myself to read “all the light wecannot see”; I have started reading it in English, but couldn’t go past a few pages-I guess it’s all these French places & names, I’m French and it sort of confuses me. I’ll give it another try.
    But I was wondering, Toby is almost 7, what books is he reading?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Toby’s favorite books include Iggy Peck Architect and Knuffle Bunny Free. And he’s starting to read longer books with me, such as Dory Fantasmagory. xoxo

  55. The last months of my pregnancy were beautifully guided by the short stories of Raymond Carver – which was my husband’s suggestion. Short stories were all I had time to take in, in between bouts of exhaustion. My hub spends his day in the classroom teaching a-level English students a variety of literature (having studied american lit himself). So I often dive into his collection.
    I think it’s very important to gain the perspective of your partner’s loves – be it books, music, and dare I say sport?

    Thanks for this post. *Purchases This Boy’s Life*

  56. This is one of the great idea. I will try it out in my home too; My kids never keep their books in an arranged manner. This would really help a lot out there.

    Keep Posting similar posts in your blog.

  57. Sarah CS says...

    My 6 would be;
    Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
    Golden Hill -Francis Spufford
    The Enchanted April – Elizabeth Von Arnim
    My Mothers Wedding Dress – Justine Picardie
    Venice – Jan Morris and
    Persuasion – Jane Austen

  58. The suggestions are really great and you have done a great job by sharing this. thank you.

  59. Jenny Leigh says...

    Hi Joanna, I’ve been waiting for you to get back to books : )

    I will check out your last two books for sure, but I don’t know what everyone raved about “All the light you cannot see” about. I loved “Goldfinch” so much more. Or “Americanah”. Best wishes from Europe!

    • t says...

      YES to all of this!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you!!! just put americanah on hold at the library after reading this comment! :)

    • Anneka says...

      Americanah and Goldfinch are both SOOOO good.

    • I’m halfway through “Americanah” right now and I’m loving it!

  60. I read mostly in polish, my boyfriend in french, so sometimes we will buy the same book in two languages, recently he wanted me to read The Goldfinch and I got him… All the Light We Cannot See, that`s our bilingual book swap..!

  61. jean geller says...

    When my husband and I were enjoying our cross country romance in the days before the FaceTime, we worried that our lovely long weekends might not be giving us a full enough picture of life so we sent each other ‘resumes’ including favorite books. 35 years later and we still read in bed every night and like to exchange (many of the) books.

  62. Kit says...

    I’m a child & youth worker, so when I’m at the library with clients they get bribed with more Skype time to borrow something I loved at their age. (Like a stage parent for books.) Probably not a good choice for men, but the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series is like making four new friends.

    Autobiographies that blew my mind:
    The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
    Hold Still: A Memoir – Sally Mann
    Open Heart, Open Mind – Clara Hughes

  63. I’m in….

  64. Theresa says...

    My husband and I did this when we were dating. :)
    I read, chosen by him:
    Carter Beats the Devil
    The Far Pavilions
    and anything by Neil Gaiman
    He read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri
    It helped us get to know one another in a delightful way!

  65. Jule says...

    My husband and I did a marital book swap this year! He had to read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and I had to read Jeff Shaara’s Gods and Generals: A Novel of the Civil War :) Which I read in Gettysburg, heh.

  66. teegan says...

    Hubby and I have recommended a lot of books to each other over the years. Last year, he was reading Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant” and I was reading Rushdie’s “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.” While we both enjoyed our books, we insisted on swapping after we finished, and we absolutely loved each other’s books. The same thing tends to happen with our beers when we’re out on a date!

  67. Graes says...

    One of my fondest memories growing up was the book swap I had with my friends at the beginning of summer break where we’d go to each other’s house and pick out the same number of books that they’d pick out from my house. At the end of the summer, all the books are read and get returned. It was fun and we had so much to discuss.

  68. Graes says...

    If my husband and I ever did the book swap thing, I’d be stuck with reading only Lord of the Rings which he reads once a year while my husband would have a whole room of books to read.

    Some of the books I recommended to him which I thought he might enjoy (and of which he hasn’t touched yet) were:

    Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore
    Devil in the White City
    Tales of Otori

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hahaha love you, Graes!

    • Ha! I would be reading Star Wars graphic novels or autobiographies of John Lennon.

      I’d swap with you, though!

  69. Rachel says...

    My books: Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr (no relation), and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Spare, beautiful books. My husband reads a lot – but 93% of it is soccer news or guitar-related. I can handle the soccer stuff but tend to take long, long, long showers while he plays guitar!

    When we were trekking in Nepal, I was desperate for something to read and he very kindly ripped his paperback book in half (he was on the back end of the experience) and gave me the first half! He said it was something he did a lot when he would mountain climb!

    • Nicole Brant says...

      That’s sweet but part of me winces at ripping a book!

    • I’m reading Plainsong right now, and it’s so beautiful and restrained that I can only read it in clips. I feel so lucky each time I pick it back up!
      Amy

    • MA says...

      Awesome. So resourceful. This reminds of Wild by Cheryl Strayed when she burned the pages of the book that she had already read. I think she did this each night, right?

  70. Anne says...

    My fiance and I have made this our Valentine’s Day tradition – each year, we pick out a book for each other, and it has to go to the top of our to-read lists. Who needs another big gift so soon after Christmas? I’m going to try to find a book of poetry for him this year, he’s been on a literary kick recently and I think he’d enjoy it.

    • Lauren E. says...

      I love this!!! Implementing this year, for sure. Thank you for the idea.

    • Hannah says...

      That’s such a great tradition!

  71. Bobbi says...

    I hope you’ll follow up with a post about what you both think of the books!

  72. Emily says...

    I just finished All the Light You Cannot See!! I started it while pregnant, and decided I had to finish now that my son is 10 months old. It was emotional to read while pregnant and then as a new mom. I see everything in such a different light now. Anyhow, I love Alex’s suggestions..would love to know what you think about them once you’ve read them!

  73. Rebecca says...

    My husband isn’t much of a reader unfortunately. He’s an engineer and more into working with his hands, but I’m a librarian and always trying to convince him to read more! I LOVED All the Light You Cannot See though and read certain passages of it to him aloud. It was such a beautifully written story.

  74. Elizabeth says...

    All the Light You Cannot See is one of the only books I really convinced my husband to read, and he loved it! (Love this idea, by the way)

    • Sarah says...

      SUCH a good book, have to agree!

  75. Anna says...

    My husband and I had to make a new NO book swapping rule. Hahah. Although he will still pick up a few of my books every once in a while, I do not explicitly recommend any to him. Once, I told him he should read Cutting For Stone, one of my very favorite books. My husband is a doctor and I knew he would love the story and relate to some of the sentiments about medicine. However, I devour books; he paces himself. I kept asking him if he was done yet. I couldn’t believe he would read the newspaper when he was in the middle of the book! Wasn’t he dying to finish it?? It drove me nuts. I drove him nuts. After that same scenario playing out over a few books, we decided I wouldn’t pressure him to read books I love because his pace isn’t a lack of love for the book, but I sometimes interpret it that way. Ha! He always tells me I went into teaching because now I can force people to read the books I want, when I want them to read them. :)

    • Kitty says...

      I’m an RN and currently reading Cutting for Stone and I LOVE it. But I am also reading it slowly, I read before bed.

      But that being said my partner and I have always switched books we love. It just happened accidentally.

    • If you love Cutting for Stone you should also read his first book, a memoir, My Own Country… one of my all time favorite books!

  76. Leticia says...

    Joanna have you read Marjane Sartrapi, Chicken with Plums? I liked it even better than Persepolis. Other books I would swap:
    Blood, bones and butter
    Almost any Kerouac book
    Just Kids
    The catcher in the Rye

  77. Barb says...

    My husband and I rarely read the same books, but I was so moved by a book last year that he finally borrowed it, despite what he considered a too-sad premise. When Breath Becomes Air. And now he knows why it’s my favorite book ever.

  78. Mary says...

    I read my husband’s favorite book, This Side of Paradise. He has yet to read my favorite, Watership Down. He isn’t a big fiction reader so it’s hard to convince him a book about rabbits is good (but it’s so good!).

    • Caroline, UK says...

      Watership down is my favourite!! Such a hard sell though. “It’s about rabbits” is usually met with a raised eyebrow.

    • Madie says...

      Watership Down is my all-time favorite too, since I was a kid!!

    • CG says...

      Watership Down is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES, and I would totally bring it on a deserted island with me.

    • Sarah says...

      I read Watership Down aloud to my husband and he fell in love worth the book. It’s also my favorite.

  79. Melody A. says...

    The book swap sounds like a lot of fun. My husband did not like to read books and I LOVE reading , finally he said O.K. , I will pick out a book. He chose Chesapeake by James Michener, read the entire book and made New England clam chowder because of it. I was so proud of him and loved him that much more because he only did it to please me. He did not read any others that I am aware of , LOVED Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side and read them over and over. He would be laughing in bed reading them. He liked me telling him about what I was reading which was all over the board in genres. I have now read some of the Calvin and Hobbes since he has been gone. They are funny!

    • nadine says...

      You two seem to have been such a lovely couple
      Sending a hug from another Calvin and hobbes fan :)

  80. Tanya says...

    The book store by my house does seasonal books swaps and they are so fun. You buy a ticket and come with a book (each time there is a theme biography, mystery, young adult) and get an assigned number. Then we spend 30 minutes at a random table with five other people. Each of us gets five minutes to pitch our book to the rest of the table. Then at the end we put the books in a table in the middle and choose one as our numbers get called. There is wine and snacks and people linger after talking about the book they got and why they are excited to read it. It’s a great idea because most of the time on my way out I end up buying an extra book or two that someone at my table sold me on.

    • Melissa says...

      This is such a good idea!

    • Elle says...

      So cool!

    • Lauren E. says...

      Oh my gosh, brilliant. I might pitch this idea to my local bookstore, too.

  81. Lexie says...

    My husband really wants me to read 2666 by Roberto Bolano, but it’s so long!!! I should feel guilty though because he’s read just about everything I asked him to (including Wild by Cheryl Strayed!). It’s one of his most likable qualities — he reads every article, book, watches every youtube video, etc. that I send his way!

  82. Angela says...

    I don’t know if my husband and I would ever do this; however, I’m in a book club that focuses solely on children’s literature- primarily ages 8-12- and we swap books and make recommendations all the time. On that note, we recently read Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi and it was excellent. It’s not an adult read, but very good nevertheless.

  83. Wow, Alex’s picks are so dude-y and yours are so fem! It’s actually similar in my relationship. I tease my husband that he’s only every interested in literary representations of pained masculinity and he says I only read books that are about wombs. But we do swap from time to time and we always read passages of books we love aloud to each other.

  84. My husband and I love to read books at the same time and talk about them but the pool of shared interests is definitely limited. I would love to have him read Shrill as well. We are having a baby girl in June and I keep pushing him to read more feminist literature.

  85. I love this idea!

    xx

    bombshell-to-be.blogspot.com

  86. Dawn says...

    My husband and I are both voracious readers and love swapping books but there are a few that we can’t get each other to read. Here are the books that both of us keep begging each other to read to no avail.

    Me (for him to read): Jane Eyre, East of Eden, anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Him (for me to read): Infinite Jest, 1984, Ulysses

    This post has inspired me to make this book swap happen!

    • Jessica says...

      I think you should read 1984, and you should suggest that your husband read Americanah. Those seem like the most accessible on each side to me.

      Also, it is my opinion (as a woman in her mid-thirties who has read Infinite Jest) that Infinite Jest is really for straight white men aged 18-24. Just saying.

  87. Annon says...

    My husband has crap taste in leisure books. Early in dating, he gave me a sci fi book by a woman author that meant a lot to him. I TRIED to read it, but nearly poked my own eyes out and grimaced every time she used an adverb. She’s well-known and has written a ton of books, why can’t she get a decent editor who knows English grammar?

    We actually end up reading a lot of the same nonfiction or spiritual classics.

  88. Mariah says...

    Love this! I have a rather large family, and for Christmas each year we do a “white elephant” style book exchange. Everyone gets their favorite book from that year, writes a note about why they picked it/are giving it, and wraps it. We then do a huge white elephant style exchange (picking, unwrapping, stealing) and everyone ends up with a great book to start the new year! It’s also a great way to read something you wouldn’t normally pick for yourself :)

    • Graes says...

      Great idea! I wish I could do this with my family.

    • Bonnie says...

      I, too, love this idea. We have a very small family, and typically just borrow our books from the library near each of us, but this would be a nice way to share with each other and then pass on to others through Bookcrossing or Little Free Libraries.

    • Katie H. says...

      Love this idea! Not sure how to convince my family…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what an awesome idea!

  89. My boyfriend and I do this all the time! If I read something I love and think is also in his wheelhouse then I pass it on over to his side of the bed to add to his stack. We both love reading and have recommended many books to each other. I swap books with quite a few people in my life though and have read some of my favourite books this way.

    • Kate says...

      Any that you could recommend? I’m getting a whole list from these comments! Xx

  90. ari says...

    A few years back i had my boyfriend read my favorite book, Rebecca. we were doing long distance so i sent it to him hoping he’d feel a little piece of me – and he did. i wrote a note in the book (because never gift a book without writing a note inside the front cover) asking him to think about why i love it while he read it. i had been feeling really isolated and disconnected being across the country alone and it felt really special for him to share his favorite moments of my favorite book with me. i loved when he was surprised by the book or when he’d ask me questions about the characters. the narrator in Rebecca lived inside her head, making expectations and assumptions and putting up walls between her and others, and i really related to that. i felt like my boyfriend was sharing some secret part of me or seeing something of me i couldn’t tell him myself. even though we now live together, i’ll have to ask for his favorite book and see what i discover about him :)

    • Melanie says...

      Ah I love this so much. Rebecca is one of my favorite books as well. My husband promised me he’d read it this year because he knows how much it means to me :)

  91. Brianna says...

    Am I the only who thought the woman in the photo was Joanna? She channels a version of Jane Birkin for sure.

    I’m single, but I’d probably have my partner read The Book Thief, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and Old School by Tobias Wolff.

  92. Kira says...

    Great idea, Laura! I’d take part!

  93. Lizzie says...

    I keep telling my husband he would really enjoy a specific book I’ve just finished–probably once a year, not too often–and he says great, stick it on the shelf for me…and never reads it. Meanwhile, I’ve read at least two books he recommended to me, and we still refer to them in conversation sometimes. I don’t know how to get him to pick up my recommendations, but a girl can dream.

  94. I love this.

  95. cooper says...

    Every holiday season, my book club does a book exchange where we swap favorite books! (The first year it was our favorite books ever, and then this year it was our favorite book we’d read that year.) It’s really sweet, and I’ve treasured the books I’ve received – last year I was given “All the Light We Cannot See” and this year, I got “The Underground Railroad”!

  96. I think it’s such a romantic and cute idea. Enjoy reading!

  97. Caroline says...

    When we first got together my husband and I swapped five books each that were important to us, that we felt said something about who we were. We also wrote a little paragraph for each book, to explain why it was so important and where it fitted in our life story so far. I would recommend it to any new (or old!) couple, because it gives an insight into who your partner was, and is, but also who they would like to be. It also lays a great foundation for discussing the books and art that you love together.

    • Dawn says...

      I love this so much!

    • Karen says...

      What a lovely idea! Thank you for sharing! I will do this!

  98. Emily says...

    I would love for my boyfriend to read an ENTIRE book of my recommendation! But, to start, may I suggest asking your partner to read just PART of one of your fave books? Not too long ago, I had been asking my BF to read Lean In, but he always had so much of his own reading material, and kept reaching for his own books night after night. Then I thought, since I already had a few of my favorite passages underlined, I would hand him the book and ask him to read the passages only. And he ended up reading all of my favorite chapter! Of course I still wish he would read the whole book, but I think breaking it down into something more manageable than a full book cover to cover made the difference. And oh well, I can’t complain, I’m still only halfway through a 100 page paperback he’s been asking me to read for a year now. It’s always on my bedside table with a glass of water on top… I call it my coaster! Hehe.

    • Lizzie says...

      I may have to try that! It’s like Cliffs Notes for couples. Better to read the notes than nothing at all.

  99. Caroline, UK says...

    Alex clearly has a thing for books that eventually get made into films starring Leonardo dicaprio!
    I love This Boys Life too. Definitely one of my favourites. Feel compelled to read Basketball Diaries now.

    • ewg says...

      Ha! I was gonna say the same thing. And I didn’t think the movie was so bad (though maybe haven’t seen it since I was 17).

  100. Emily says...

    you guys are the cutest! i really want to read alex’s suggestions, at least the first two! i dont know what id want my husband to read, even three is hard to choose. Maybe my two favorite short stories by Joseph Conrad, they’re so romantic but also tragic, the Planter of Malacca(sp?) and another one about a mysterious and handsome sailor Thailand (drawing a blank on the name).

  101. Kathryn says...

    My husband and I love to read to each other. I usually end up as the one reading because he likes that I “do the voices”. Somehow we both made it through high school without ever touching The Catcher and the Rye, so when we went on a road trip up the PCH we chose that as our book. Neither of us swear much so it was pretty funny to read such a flavorful book out loud!

    It’s a helluva memory, it really is ;)

  102. When we first started dating, my boyfriend and I would go into a bookstore and buy each other a book. It was a good way of learning about each other on a more intimate level. Even though we had been casually seeing each other for years and had spent a decent amount of time together, we both were able to learn new things about each other we wouldn’t have otherwise.

    We still swap books a lot, actually. I just succeeded getting him to start Game of Thrones. We will see if he breaks up with me after finishing the first book.

  103. Nikki says...

    My boyfriend is currently deployed and he does a TON of reading during his down time. I send him my favorite young adult novels (I’m a teacher) to his kindle as surprise easy reads and to let him know I’m thinking of him (EVERY human should read wonder and I’m making my way through the school librarians 100 best children’s novels). We also do a book club together where we read the same chapter each night or two and talk about it via email. It’s a sweet way to grow closer and breaks up the emails that end to be just a laundry list of my day.

    • Leah PS says...

      I love this. Please tell your honey thank you for his service.

  104. Trish O says...

    Not going to happen. Maybe it is because we have been married so long… maybe because my husband only reads like Kurt Vonnegut. Don’t tell ANYONE (😜) but I have gotten into a regency romance habit. We both tend to reread whatever our high school freshman is reading in class (Scarlet Letter, I am looking at you)
    But this could be a very cute idea for some.
    Now Netflix binge watch ideas we do swap around.

    • Midge says...

      Trish, Regency romances are the BEST! Hilariously, I just told me husband we should do our own book swap and he said doubtfully, “Will I have to read ‘Lady Pemberton’s Nightclothes’ or something like that?” Ha! But I will ask him to read “The Grand Sophy” by Georgette Heyer, just so he can see how her books are, in fact, NOT embarrassing. And I will gamely try sci-fi in exchange.

    • I had a boyfriend force me to read Vonnegut once. I never fully recovered. In his defense, I made him read Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. That book caused me to up and join the Peace Corps. I see the old boyfriend on Facebook occasionally, and he has fond Maugham memories. I cannot say the same for Vonnegut. :)

    • Lucy says...

      One day, one day, I will convince my husband that Georgette Heyer is a worthwhile read. I love her SO MUCH and he is always so disparaging! I second The Grand Sophy – it was the first book of hers that I read.
      I agree – NOT embarrassing!

    • Kristen says...

      Thank you to you and your husband. As a high school English teacher, I’m always trying to get families to read our books at the same time. Close reading, critical thinking, and analysis skills are honed naturally when you can chat about great books over the dinner table.

    • Lauren E. says...

      I’m dying!! My husband himself is on a Vonnegut kick. We have a shared Kindle library and half is Vonnegut, Dickens, and Bukowski and the other half is embarrassingly mine with titles like, “Iced Under: A Maine Clambake Mystery” and “Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe.” In these times of political strife, the fluffy stuff just makes me feel better!

  105. Bethany says...

    My husband and I have been doing this for years–kind of. I am the big fiction reader in the house and I tear through books. When I find something I think he’ll like, I pass it on, and he usually does. However, I’m not so great about reading his suggestions, which is usually sci-fi, and sometimes I feel bad about that, especially because he always asks if he’d like the book he sees me reading at the time. Sometimes, he doesn’t like a book I’ve loved, and then I want to divorce him!

  106. Abby says...

    Devil in the White City!

  107. Shannon says...

    I was dating this man who found out my favorite book is Jane Eyre. One night out of the blue, he said he wanted to discuss something with me…and promptly whipped out a copy of Jane Eyre! He had been furiously reading the whole thing just so we could talk about it together, because he knew I loved it. Well…

    Reader, I married him.
    <3

    • Joy says...

      Oh, this is so perfect!!!

    • cooper says...

      So sweet!!!

    • Claire says...

      That is so so sweet eeet!

    • charlotte says...

      haha! :)

    • Susan says...

      So romantic!

    • kayzie says...

      What a gem of a fellow!

    • Kylee says...

      That is so cute!!! 😀

    • Angela says...

      Favorite comment of all time. That is the sweetest thing. I’m glad you married him!

    • Ingrid says...

      I would have too! How sweet!

    • Melanie says...

      Hahahaha! Best comment so far! (And I’m not just saying that because Jane Eyre is my favourite book, too. Well, maybe I am.)

    • Jessica says...

      Shannon, this is so romantic and sweet and funny! Your last comment wins for the week.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, this couldn’t be sweeter!!

  108. Yeah, this is so cool. I used to swap books with my mum and it was always fun to talk about it with her. Then she would swap with her friend, and the book will eventually get missing along the line. Lol. We are so far apart now (distance issues) so I haven’t done this in a while.

    http://www.zinnyfactor.com

  109. Ceridwen says...

    This is such a great idea! An in house bookclub. I’d love to try this too although I’m a big reader but my husband isn’t. He likes reading articles and technical writing (and there is no way I’m going to read up on computer programming or guitar amps) so an articles swap might be the way to go.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      an articles swap would be so great, too!

  110. Sasha says...

    Haven’t read Persepolis, but the movie of it was amazing- both my boyfriend and I loved the animation. I would highly recommend it as thought-provoking date night.

  111. Jo says...

    Thanks for this great post. My local library apparently doesn’t have a copy of The Basketball Diaries (!), so I asked them to order it. Alex can take credit for bringing a great book to this corner of Nevada!

  112. Gabriella says...

    Yes! I read Sarah Bakewell’s fabulous book “At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails” and now, in a rare move for us since our tastes are usually so different, my husband is reading it. We bonded over philosophy when we first met and went on to both study it in college, so I’m looking forward to us having some of those conversations again years later. Then I’m going to ask him to choose one for me!

  113. Hannah says...

    We don’t usually trade books, but we often read the same book at the same time, like our own mini book club. :) We also like to read aloud to each other, which is so soothing and relaxing to me.

  114. Sarah Beth says...

    My husband pretty much only reads my suggestions! When I was dating in my 20s, I thought I wanted a fellow book lover (I’m a librarian– books really are my life!), but when I met my husband, I realized how much I loved that he wasn’t a big book guy (though he does enjoy reading.) He is a big music lover, so over the years we’ve both had fun introducing the other to our favorites. I’ve shared my favorite books with him, from classics like Lonesome Dove and The Power of One to new books like The Family Fang and your pick, All the Light We Cannot See! And in return, he’s introduced me to great music — everything from albums like Layla and other Assorted Love Songs and All Things Must Pass to artists like Courtney Barnett and Lambchop.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s awesome! you guys sound like a fun couple.

    • Ceridwen says...

      Music is a great swap idea! I just realised reading your comment that my husband and I do this too. Especially since we have subscribed to Spotify.

  115. Sarah Kang says...

    Love this idea! I’m single but I would have my future partner read When Breath Becomes Air. :)

  116. Jen X says...

    This is a tough one. Books are so personal, they’re like your children that no one can say anything negative about.

    • t says...

      I completely agree. For example I didn’t think All the light we cannot see was that great. And if my sig other didn’t love my fav books it might make me sad.

  117. Jo – How cool would it be if you organized a giant “Cup of Jo” reader book swap where we all send a random reader our three fave books of all time to someone else in the country?! It’d be the worlds best and biggest book swap!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that is such a fun idea!

    • Kathryn says...

      I totally thought that’s where this post was headed!

    • I’m in, Laura! :)

    • oh i like that. i’m currently re-reading an old favorite (geek love) because i just didn’t know what else to read!

    • Kira says...

      Great idea, Laura! I’d take part!

    • Karen says...

      I’m game!!

    • Lauren E. says...

      I would do this in a heartbeat!

    • ks says...

      i’m in! and if any COJ book readers live in houston, I’d love to know x

    • Em says...

      totally into this, sounds super fun!