Great Ideas Committee launches “Novels & Noms” book swap

Nigel Jaffe

The Great Ideas Committee “Novels & Noms” book swap kicked off in Dodd Living Room last Thursday. SABRINE BRISMEUR/PHOTO EDITOR

It is a truth universally acknowledged that students at the College don’t have time to read for fun. Most people here suffer from a chronic shortage of free time, and even when an odd leisure hour does appear, reading tends to sit low on the list of priorities. 

This was the challenge facing College Council’s Great Ideas Committee as it organized the inaugural “Novels & Noms” book exchange, an event designed to bring people together over a shared love for books. “Do you feel like you haven’t read for pleasure since First Days?” reads the initial message sent to the entire student body introducing the idea. “Do you find yourself eating lunch with the same faces in the same places? Have we got the event for you!”

That email invited students to submit the name and genre of a favorite book, along with an optional blurb introducing themselves and describing their selection. The Great Ideas Committee purchased copies of all of them, inserted the name and blurb provided by the recommender inside the cover and made each option anonymous by wrapping them in brown butcher paper, distinguishing one book from another only by writing the genre on the paper.

After several weeks of anticipation, dozens of students streamed through Dodd Living Room last Thursday to make their choices. Reception was universally positive, with the only source of disappointment being the cap of one book per participant. “I think it’s a really good idea,” Nick Servedio ’22 said. “I wish I could get more than one book, though.”

Abbey Minondo ’19, who chairs the Great Ideas Committee and played a large role in handling the logistics of the event, said that one of the group’s main goals was for participants to get to know the people who recommended their books. “I really hope people reach out to others,” she said. “It’s a very self-selecting event, which I think is great, because it makes the reaching out rate higher. I mean, you wouldn’t submit a book if you didn’t want an email back, right?”

Given the small size of the College, it comes as no surprise that some participants, such as Grace Chamberlin ’19, formed those connections almost right away. “I came in the door, and someone saw me and said, ‘Oh, I got your book,’” she said. “It was about baking and the history of food, and now we’re going to go on a little bakery date!”

All told, 136 books – mysteries, thrillers, cookbooks, short story collections and more – found new owners through the exchange. Many of the titles were purchased through Chapter Two Books on Spring Street, a used book store that donates its revenue to Williamstown’s David and Joyce Milne Public Library. “Before we bought anything on Amazon, I talked to the people at Chapter Two Books,” Minondo said. “We cleared their stores – they ended up supplying us with 55 of the total 136.”

Marisa Daley, Chapter Two’s stock manager, gave some insight into their side of the process. “Some [books] came directly from our store, and others came from our distribution center at the library,” she said. “We were able to offer them at a fraction of their cost thanks to the thousands of book donations we have received from our generous community since opening our store in November.”

Minondo said she believes that used book stores offer advantages over online options beyond just lower prices. “There’s something magical about getting a used book, even if it’s not as crisp as a new one,” she said. 

Daley spoke highly of the Novels & Noms project. “All of these books, donated by our generous community, were then given a new life by Abbey and the students at Williams,” she said. 

Ginny Sheldon, donation center coordinator at the Milne Public Library, agreed that the partnership was rewarding for all involved. “We had so much fun working with Abbey and look forward to more such collaborations,” she said.

Minondo said she hopes that students will take full advantage of the opportunity afforded by the exchange to step outside their usual routines. “Finding time to read for fun is really hard at Williams,” she said. “I think part of the message here is, ‘Don’t squander your youth – just go out there, meet someone, take a risk, do something you like, for yourself.’”