Go ahead: Buy a book at full price now and then, just to keep the process going. It's good for publishers and great for authors. Only the genre stars make much anyway, so do what you can to support good literature from others.
Building a library, though, comes from a range of book purchases, from free to full price. If I'd paid list price for all the books in 10 bookcases at home, well, it'd be a pretty costly, nutty thing to do. So of course I did not. (Now I only have to worry about reading them all before I die.) A fair amount of the time, though, I plunk down the full price—especially at author signings. It's a good thing to support them in this way.
That said, while promising to pay full price some of the time, here are tips to get book-related perks for nothing, or nearly so.
Random House publishes "Book Club," a rundown on new titles for library-sponsored book clubs (randomhouselibrary.com). Its First Look Book Club gives readers a free excerpt from just-published books, via email. Includes all genres. Sign up at www.TinyURL.com/FirstLookBookClub. Other publishing houses do the same thing. Check the publishers of some favorite authors and see what they are promoting. In these situations, dedication (frequent checking) pays off. The publisher's Readers Circle offers giveaway contests and some freebies, like this month's short story by Jodi Picoult, available for downloading.
Go to favorite authors' web sites and follow them regularly. This is a good place to find free books as each new book comes to publication. It's a promotional gesture, and fans love it. I'd rather have a real book than an e-book anytime.
Book Bub and Book Perk—granted they're selling something—often include a free read with their ebooks, for those reading on Nooks or similar devices. I'm not much for electronic readers, though I have them on my iPad and as a Nook, still they're great for vacations, plane trips, dark theaters before the show comes on, or just slipping into a purse. Though it will usually cost me, I've decided I no longer want to tote around a large book (Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" did me in), so I'll order larger selections that way in the future.
E-book libraries, available with readers, don't make a show of it but do offer free books from earlier or classical realms. Search for books on sale or $0.00 and see what comes up. This is a good place to find the classics you never read but always meant to. I'm into Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" right now. I don't get many books this way (nor do I buy many), because I'll never read that many, but for an easy way to take your reading along, e-books can't be beat.
To shortcut the search, Kindle offers Free Kindle Classics, a master list of free ebooks, for 99 cents. Find it with a search on Amazon. Buyer beware: Know your authors. Everyone knows which books are classics, and therefore pretty good reads, but there is a large amount of what's politely called drivel out there for free. You'll generally find this out the hard way. But it's not true that you can't get something for nothing. There are plenty of good reads available—first books by unknown authors or older books that haven't sold well. Select carefully.
I always look through sale racks at bookstores. It helps to know which authors are good, because some very good books get placed in the bin from time to time. It's worth a look. For a little help with the selection process, manybooks.net offers reader reviews of freebies, and includes the classics as well as newer books. Project Gutenberg is a must site for readers, since this site offers thousands of free, expired copyright books and was the pioneering e-book site. (There's also a self-publishing wing at www.gutenberg.org.)
Many online book clubs are nothing more than venues for book sales. Book of the Month Club, that age-old mother of all book clubs, has morphed into BOMC2, offering club members books at a low flat fee. Still, that isn't free!
Since most clubs have a spending budget the size of a pea, there are also authors who don't charge to visit with your club by Skype. Additionally, there are a fair number of notable authors within reach of Worcester. They will occasionally visit (it's nice to offer gas money or a gift). Find them by contacting the author (most have web sites these days), or searching online. I've noticed a fair number of authors who've laid the process out for readers, with web sites offering excerpts, reviews, book club questions, librarian/bookseller info, etc. They're people who are well prepared for the online revolution.
One online site, by the way, offers books in exchange for reviews. GoodReads is the site, and there are conditions, (plus it's competitive), but they're available. If you accept a book and then don't post a review, regardless of length, don't expect to be high on the list of future freebies!
Bookmarks: Those who, like me, still read print books, also have a fetish for cool bookmarks. Yes, the grocery list will do—but then it is missing when it's time to shop, so I buy bookmarks (as book club gifts too) at the Legacy outlet on Green Street in Clinton. This cool, recycled paper products shop sells bookmarks for about a dime apiece, and they're lovely, printed on heavy paper for long use. It's also possible to print bookmarks out from free templates you find online. There are dozens of possibilities, not quite free if you must also buy paper, but almost.
Going to the Boston Book Festival at Copley Square Oct. 23-25 will net you freebies galore, ranging from bookmarks to books and magazines (and candy!). Book fairs are always a good place to visit, and Boston's is very large and mostly free. Only a few activities have a price tag on them, and it's kept low.
While online book clubs have proliferated, and you can join them for free, the only way to get free food is to join your local book club! Somehow, the best cooks end up hosting the groups, and offer an array of healthy and not-so-healthy treats. Do your part: either bring something along or find a way to contribute to the cook's purse. Our group surprised its host with baking supplies to further the cause!
Inexpensive, though not free, are the books scooped up at huge book sales, most often during the summer and early fall. In July, for instance, join other bibliophiles (or, as I've been told, bookaholics) at the big sales: more than 16,000 items are on sale at the Stockbridge Library Association sale, July 11-13. Another biggie, touting more than 120,000 items, is the Newtown, Conn., annual book sale, July 12-16 at Reed Intermediate School. Closer to home, Gardner's beautiful Heywood Library, 55 W. Lynde St., has accrued 10,000 items for sale Aug. 1-2. Sept. 20-21, is the Friends of Morse Institute Library sale on Route 135, where 20,000 items are available for 50 cents to $1. Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster fills Town Hall's auditorium with table after table of books on Oct. 4. Caution: Attendance not recommended for anyone without ample bookcase space!
Your library is, hands down, the biggest source of free books, from new releases to best-sellers and classics. And you get to return them when finished—an advantage for the space-pressed among us. I find it difficult to admit to this status, but my son-in-law reminds me that I cannot take them with me when I go (as if he's anticipating that event any day now!)
Speaking of bookcases, I once fashioned a charming one in a guest room using a polished pine bunk-bed ladder. It leaned against the wall, prettily, filled with books I imagined a guest would enjoy. Several did. But you can get free plans for building bookcases at a number of places. Ana White, This Old House, and several woodworking firms and magazines—Fine Woodworking, Start Woodworking, Rockler Woodworking, for instance—offer plans. Check around; there is quite a variety.
A good summer read:
Luanne Rice has empathetically drawn on the personal impacts of immigration laws on families living within and outside the United States in her latest novel, "The Lemon Orchard." A Connecticut native (honored with the Governor's Arts Award this month in that state), Rice has published 31 novels. She sets this story of broken lives and tragic losses within a Malibu lemon orchard, where a Mexican living illegally in the U.S. grieves the loss of his daughter while they crossed the desert. He meets and forms a bond with an American whose sorrow over a deceased daughter drives every decision she makes. It's a good story, not laden with pat answers or predictable outcomes, and offers eye-opening details about the horrors immigrants encounter as they make their way across the desert trying to enter this country.