BookMooch, and Regency Romance

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

What do BookMooch and Regency Romance have in common, one might ask? Quite a lot, it appears, which is one of the curiosities of the curious phenomenon that is BookMooch. But a more important question is probably: what the hell is BookMooch anyway?

If you are from the UK, dear reader, you may have noticed the proliferation of book swapping fairs, festivals and stalls in the last year or two (whether this trend is limited to the UK or not is beyond my knowledge). Indeed, one can hardly move without stumbling over yet another hastily set-up stand with a limp array of used novels, inviting one to leave a book and take a book. From my (former) university library to the theatre to the local Tesco, the appeal of book-bartering seems to be spreading.

This is undoubtedly a marvellous idea. The severe downside to these tiny local stalls is, of course, the lack of choice. Being unable to resist casting mine eye over any array of books within my reach, I cannot help but notice that the cast of bookish characters on offer changes each time I visit my local supermarket; however I have not yet deemed it worthwhile to participate. Supposing I took the trouble of carrying a discarded tome with me, would I feel tempted to swap it for a Catherine Cookson, a Dan Brown or an Alexandra Potter? I think not.

BookMooch is one of a few sites which has taken the simple idea of book-for-book barter and elevated it worldwide. Yes, there are therefore postage costs to contend with; but with careful and considered use of the site one can certainly receive back at least the value of the books + postage costs that one sends out.

It’s down to the trade points system. In a nutshell: sending out a book within one’s own country will earn the swapper one point, redeemable against one book from someone else within one’s own country. Sending abroad earns three, while requesting from abroad uses only two. It emerges as an effective way of encouraging users to accept the higher costs of posting abroad, and therefore considerably broadening the pool of books to choose from.

So far I find it as cost-effective as shopping from my local charity shops and second-hand bookshops, only more easily searchable and with vastly more choice. Delightful.

Anyway, any scheme must have its quirks, and I believe I mentioned the usually forbidden term ‘Regency romance’. Having become a regular browser of BookMooch’s recently listed tomes of wonder, I can’t help but notice the peculiar excess of books listed in this unpromising category. Easy enough to spot: if they are not helpfully adorned with ‘Regency Romance’ in brackets, they are obligingly titled with beauties such as ‘The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount’ or ‘The Viscount Who Loved Me’ (Viscounts seem to be all the rage).

It is probably beyond the powers of science to determine what mystic link exists between BookMooch and Regency Romance, nor why the former insists on promoting the latter to me in astonishing quantities via the otherwise helpful recommendations feature. It is certainly beyond the powers of science or magic to explain why I actually requested one, or actually a collection of four short novellas in one book entitled ‘The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown’. And I even read it.

To say that I was (am) suspicious of a genre that makes a virtue of taking the romantic elements from Jane Austen’s classics and recreating them largely stripped of everything else that makes those novels perfect (wit; irony; deadly accurate character portrayals; social commentary; comic characters and villains as well as heroes and heroines; perfectly formed, sophisticated language, and so on…) is an understatement. That said, there was more period detail than expected in these four stories, though – more as expected – there was also a gleeful abandon of said probabilities for the period when it came time for Ladies and Gentlemen to be Alone Together. In short, the Regency does make for a beautiful backdrop – apparently there is an unending appeal to the picture of spirited ladies in high-waisted gowns dancing the waltz (!!) for eternity with starched and formal but secretly passionate gentlemen in cutaways and cravats. Sooner or later, though, the ‘romance’ must outweigh the ‘Regency’.

Not that it wasn’t fun, though. I may not be inspired to partake of BookMooch’s repeated invitations to acquire every single Regency Romance novel on the face of the planet, but I will keep this particular one to be re-read on some cold and dismal weekend when the daily trials begin to seem insurmountable. I suppose that’s what truly lighthearted literature is made for: it can indeed be cheering stuff.

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