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scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source

What is a book scrounger? The above definition of “scrounge” comes from Merriam-Webster: “to actively seek money, work, or sustenance from any available source” (with the word “books” substituted for all those other nouns).

But I also like this one: “to search about and turn up something needed from whatever source is available.” That’s how I obtain books. It’s a continuous process, and also something I enjoy. It’s not a fetish – I don’t like all books. But since I don’t have a lot of money, I have to access the books I’m looking for using a variety of different means.

Where? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute. But the first step in scrounging is finding ideas. Sometimes one idea leads to another and before you know it, your reading list is growing by the minute.

Here are some of the places I go for inspiration:

GoodReads. GoodReads is awesome. You can find just about any book on there, as well as information, ratings, and reviews. It’s a social network, so if you have a facebook account, you can use it to join, and see what your friends are reading, if they’re on there as well. There’s a neat “compare books” feature, which lets you see which books you have in common with different friends, and how similar your ratings are on all of them.

Listopia is a section on GoodReads that provides lists of ranked books (voted on by users, in most cases) in all kinds of categories. Especially if you’re a “list person,” this is a fun way to find ideas.

Kirkus Reviews is a respected resource for reviews of current books.

Amazon is another popular place to read book reviews, but I also like reading personal blogs because they are often focused on a particular genre of books. Since one of my interests right now is children’s literature, I have enjoyed finding recommendations and reviews on relevant blogs such as Read-at-Home Mom, Delightful Children's Books, and Batch of Books.

One great resource for parents and others interested in children’s literature is Brightly. They provide lists, ideas, and you can sign up for e-mail updates which often include relevant books for current events and times of the year. 

A Mighty Girl is another place I like to go for recommendations for books for and about girls, with a focus on learning about strong women from history.

You can also visit publishing companies’ websites to get ideas—companies such as Scholastic, Candlewick Press, Kids Can Press, or Usborne Books, among others. Another one I like for educational recommendations is Mathical Books. Keep in mind that publishing companies’ recommendations will be limited to books that they have published. Also, even if you don't homeschool, you may find some inspiration in the catalogs of literature-based curriculums such as Sonlight (or BookShark, their secular version), or Beautiful Feet Books.

If you’re interested in award winners, take a look at who's been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for the past century plus. For children's books, the American Library Association puts out a list of notable children’s books every year. They also give out the Caldecott Medal for picture books, and the Newbery Medal for children’s literature. 

If you're into young adult literature, EpicReads might have some ideas for you.

One way to find out what's popular is to browse the New York Times Bestseller List (but keep in mind that this is sometimes more indicative of a massive advertising budget than literary quality).

If all else fails (or just for fun), you can always type the last book you read into BookSeer to get recommendations for similar books.

So once you get ideas for great books to read, where do you find them?

Free options:

Well, the best place to start is your local library. Even if you have no specific ideas whatsoever, talk to a librarian. Librarians are awesome--they would be happy to help find something for you or your child to read. Where else can you find service like that without someone trying to sell you something?

If you don’t know where there are libraries in your area, check out PublicLibraries.com and browse by state. Most libraries are free to residents of their city, and sometimes surrounding areas too. Even if you choose a library that’s not in your town, the yearly fee is usually pretty reasonable—and a lot less expensive than buying all the books you’re interested in!

Most libraries have websites and give you the ability to search their catalog online. When I get a book idea, it only takes me a few clicks to see whether or not my library has it, and whether it’s available or checked out. And if it’s not available, I can search the entire area to see whether it can be requested from a different library. I’ve done this a few times and it’s very easy—the book didn’t take long to come in either.

In addition to “regular” libraries, there is a movement sweeping the nation called Little Free Library in which people build or buy a small box with a door on the front, fill it with books, and encourage others to “take a book, return a book.” Maybe you've seen them popping up in residential neighborhoods. Check out the map on the website to see if there are any in your area. The recently published Little Free Library book chronicles the movement and highlights some of the more creative libraries, and the ways in which they have helped bring communities together and get people back into reading.

Giveaways: If you have the time to put in, searching for book giveaways to enter can sometimes yield free books (though there are usually hundreds of people who enter each one). I keep an eye on GoodReads' giveaway page (this is also a nice way to get ideas about good books that are coming out). Though not required, it is polite and expected that you will write at least a short review of the book if you win one, because part of the purpose of the giveaway is to help give some visibility to the book/author. 

The book site LibraryThing also has some giveaway pages: Early Reviewers for advanced copies of books, and Member Giveaways which asks winners to provide an honest review in exchange for a free copy of the book. 

If you do a Google search for "book giveaways," you'll probably come across many more sites with active giveaways, such as BookRiot, or The Children's Book Review.

If you blog or are active on book networks, and if you like ebooks, NetGalley offers free review copies of certain ebooks in exchange for an honest review (you can keep them for about two months). Some of the books require approval, but others are available to all members.

Not-free to almost-free options:

If you’ve got some money to spend, there are chain bookstores such as Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble, but there are also locally owned bookstores. If you want to save money, look for used bookstores, thrift stores, and flea markets. I really enjoy looking through our local flea markets, because you never know what you’ll find.

I’ve also noticed that our local Goodwill store appears to have a larger and more organized selection of books than in the past—I’ve found a few gems there lately.

Looking online can give you access to a greater selection of books, and one of my favorite cash-strapped options for finding books online is PaperbackSwap. If you have books in good condition that you are willing to give away, you can list them on the site. When someone requests one, you mail it out to them, and when they receive it you get a credit to request a book for yourself from anywhere on the site. All you pay is media mail shipping costs (and an occasional swap fee of about 50 cents). You can also buy credits for about $4, but it’s cheaper to get them by swapping. This is one of the first places I check when I’m really interested in a book. Unfortunately, many current, well-reviewed books have long waiting lists, so you may want to look for other sources if you want a popular book quickly.

I first began book-swapping on a site called BookMooch which works in a similar way (except you can’t buy credits, to my knowledge), but it’s not as active these days so I don’t use it as much.

There are also many great websites for buying used books. One of my favorites is Abe Books (their prices are often lower than buying used on Amazon), but I also like Thrift Books and Better World Books.

If you're into ebooks, BookBub can alert you to deals on ebooks that match your interests.

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