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A book as Christmas gift? Here's a smarter idea

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They're calling it "Netflix for books" and the most surprising thing about it is that no one has tried it before.

BookSwim is an online book rental and delivery service. If you don't have time to run to the library and feel guilty about cluttering up your house with more books, this is an intriguing alternative that delivers books-for-rent right to your doorstep.

And if you're looking for a gift that keeps on giving, BookSwim offers gift subscriptions that would allow your giftee to enjoy several books for the price of what it would have cost you to buy and wrap one. (A three-book trial membership costs $19.98.)

Here's how it works: Readers order books online and receive them through the mail. They can choose among plans that would allow them to receive from three to 11 books at a time. These books can be kept for as long as the reader likes with no late fees.

When finished with at least two books, the reader sends them back to BookSwim in a pre-paid return bag that comes with every shipment.

Readers who fall in love with their books have the option to buy them. (About a third of the books shipped out are brand new – the others are "pre-read.")

There are four different membership levels, ranging from $19.98 per month for their "light reader" three-at-a-time plan to $39.94 per month for the "voracious reader" 11-at-a-time plan.

Of course, it's not for everyone. Online comments range from, "This is the best idea I ever heard" to "How lazy can people be not to be able to go to the library?" But the library, others note, often has a waiting list for the most popular books. With Bookswim, this is less likely to be a problem.

BookSwim's inventory is good but – naturally – not as good as Amazon's. But then again, BookSwim won't clutter up your bookshelf. And there's also the satisfaction that comes with cutting your consumption and making use of a shared resource. In addition, BookSwim plants trees for every gift card sold.

Of course, technology promises other options for the voracious reader. As one online customer wrote: "I am waiting for E-ink flexible readers." But in the meantime, she added, "This is a nice option for girls on the run."

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