Here at Readers Lane, we love to read and we love a deal. (So reading about deals is probably the best of all.) If your bookshelves are leaving you uninspired, take a look at these great sources for free and cheap books.

1.    Thrift stores: Many thrifters take one look at the yellowed, teetering towers of 50-year-old National Geographics and zoom right past the book department. But once you’re done browsing for vintage clothes and kitschy art, stop by the books and you might be pleasantly surprised. Most hardcovers are under $3, and paperbacks are often less than $1 — and if you catch them on half-price days, it’s a real steal. And it’s not just smelly old romance novels: I see lots of bestsellers, often in pristine condition (especially right after the holidays).

Bookshelves in a thrift store

2.    Garage and estate sales: Garage sales are the next best thing to free, because the sellers usually just want you to take those heavy books off their hands, so prices are rock-bottom. I mean, when was the last time you got anything for a quarter? Don’t be afraid to make an offer on a box or even a stack of books — garage sales are all about haggling. Sometimes the more enterprising types will sell old magazines for mere pennies, too. They’re excellent for disposable beach reading, and it’s not like those 10 Sizzling Sex Tips ever change anyway.

3.    Little Free Libraries: Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, the Little Free Library project’s mission is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.” These public, free book boxes are registered on a map; find one at a home or business near you, browse the shelf for something you like, or donate a book of your own to the collection. Visiting or hosting a Little Free Library is a great way to connect with readers in your community, too!

Little free library hutch

4.    Book exchange shelves: Before there were Little Free Libraries, of course, there were free-book shelves in office breakrooms, hotel lobbies, churches, community centers, and many other public locations. My office has two, including a generous selection of magazines that coworkers leave when they’re finished (sadly, the gossip rags always get snatched up instantly).

5.    Library sales: Many libraries have periodic book sales to clear out their collections and to find homes for all the books that people donate. For just a buck or two, you can stock up on hardcover books in good condition. The last day of the sale often features half-price or fill-a-bag discounts; serious bargain hunters bring rolling suitcases or those old-lady cart trolleys to cram full.

Little free library shelf

6.    Book swap parties: Hosting a book swap party for your friends is the best kind of multi-tasking. You get to hang out with cool people, help yourself to their books for free, and de-clutter your bookshelves! Our book swap party guide will show you how.

7. If you prefer the thrill of hunting down a book in the wild, BookCrossing will help you track down your prey. Participants label a book with a unique numerical code and “release” it in a public location (such as a park bench), where someone else finds it, reads it, and adds their own comments on the BookCrossing website before sending it out into the world for the next person. You can search for books released in your area or donate some of your own (free label templates are provided).

8.    Public libraries: I know, this one seems so obvious — and yet I have many friends who still don’t have a library card! The library is your golden ticket to a world of free books, magazines, comic books, CDs, DVDs, and e-books. Seattle’s library also offers free museum passes, book recommendations, live music events, author readings, and more. Don’t forget, in addition to your city library, you may also be eligible to join your county library and double your free-book fun (not to mention your maximum-item limit).

5th Ave entrance to Seattle Central Library

9. The Readers Lane Facebook Page: That’s right, our Facebook page is your one-stop source for free Kindle and Nook e-books. “Like” us and you’ll receive notifications about free e-books ranging from bestselling YA fantasy to historical romance to suspense-filled thrillers and sci-fi. These freebies are a special bonus for our Facebook fans, so check it out!

Stephanie Perry
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