Free books can be yours if you've a) the temerity to shoplift from Waterstones, or b) the brains to call at the Carnaby Book Exchange. An unexpected central London gem, you'll find it in the Kingly Court complex, off Carnaby Street. As is mandatory in this neck of the woods, it is flanked by kooky neighbours.
The exchange ticks several brownie point boxes: recycling, reclaiming vacant shop space and leaving notes for strangers.
When I heard that it had been curated by students from the London College of Fashion, I pictured a bookshop staffed by po-faced, paper-thin hipsters.
Eerily enough, the place is unmanned. A library minus the forms, the fines, and bespectacled book police. It is self-service in much the same spirit as an honesty box and feels satisfyingly bohemian. Doubtless some will visit on a virtuous pretext when they are, in fact, coveting freebies.
Simply take along an unwanted book. Write a note in the front for whoever chooses it (optional). Leave your donation on a shelf, and select a book to take away with you.
The real beauty of book swaps is the promise of links with your predecessor, be it their biscuit crumbs or scribbled witticisms in the margin. Why, I once found the contents of someone's nose had been kindly deposited in Gulliver's Travels. No such ghastliness at the Carnaby Book Exchange. My visit was a roaring success, scoring two titles on my bucket list.
Spotted: a democratic selection to say the least. Dawkins and Nietzsche alongside the more cerebral output of Katie Price. Also travel guides, fashion bibles and crime bestsellers.
Surrendered: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger, and Metamorphoses by Ovid.
Snatched: Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson, and Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.
Bookish good looks.
Perhaps because of its parentage, this venture lacks the dog-eared frumpiness of traditional swap and second-hand concepts. They've captured a suitably bookish cool with stark white shelves and wooden floor. Vintage furniture adds battered glamour that invites you to linger. Why not park your gluteus maximus on the chaise longue and marinate in Proust?
My only gripe is the door being permanently wedged agape when an 'open' sign would do. In summer this is fine, but at the time of writing it's brass monkeys outside.