Bring a book, browse and take your pick
I’m a little embarrassed about my offerings for April’s edition of Book Swap Colombo. There are five books tucked away in my bag – two of which unerringly earn me a raised eyebrow and a lot of teasing whenever anyone peruses my book cupboard. It’s my first time here and I decide against putting them into the pile of books on the table but perhaps my embarrassment is misplaced – the crowd at the Book Swap is a forgiving and friendly one.
Book Swap Colombo brings together people for the shared love of books and had humble beginnings – it started off with five friends who met up in a food court of a mall to swap books and get book recommendations. The group now has a lively Facebook group of over 2,700 members. The premise is simple – you barter books for books. Bring a book or two that you’d like to swap and lay it on the table. Browse the books on the table and pick up any book that catches your fancy. Once you’re done reading, feel free to bring back the book and perpetuate the reading cycle but this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
If you’re new to the event and wondering how to ease in, keep a lookout for Nadeesha Paulis who cheerfully gives a primer about the group and the swapping process to hesitant newcomers. The crowds and the collection at the last book swap is smaller (it’s a rainy evening) compared to its previous events and there’s a steady hum of conversation in the air. Nadeesha, a writer for an e-commerce site and former journalist, has been co-ordinating the meet-ups since its first in 2013. “It’s a very informal setting,” explains Nadeesha, adding that events are organized spontaneously with updates posted through Facebook.The initial events were started with the help of her mother, Chandrika Gadiewasam and uncle, Namal and are now powered through with the help of enthusiastic volunteers after the concept caught on.
The swapping is ideal for anyone whose cupboards are spilling over with books or have books they’ve enjoyed but outgrown. It also draws people looking for interesting reads outside the confines of a bookstore or a library and who’d like to meet other book enthusiasts. If you want to share a good read but would like to see the book back in your hands eventually, make a note of it in the book to try and ensure that it makes its way back to you (this operates on an informal goodwill basis, of course. Perhaps share with care if it’s a book you’re not willing to part permanently with, the organizers caution).
Some literary transactions may seem more unequal than others in this barter exchange – what if you bring in a Blyton and walk away with a Nabokov? How many backdated Natgeo magazines is a Jeffrey Archer worth? Or is it vice versa? Perhaps it sounds a little idealistic, but the event’s success finally boils down to the shared camaraderie between booklovers and the creation of a safe and affordable space for bibliophiles to gather.
A regular at the book swaps since last year, for former software engineer and freelance writer Chathu Alahakoon, her favourite part of the book swap is exactly this – meeting a cross-section of diverse people from all occupations to discuss reading and writing. At a time when there’s an often heard lament about not having the time to read and people are increasingly caught between the responsibilities of work and home, the group’s events help carve a time for all things book-related.
The generosity of the book swappers has been astonishing. Nadeesha relates anecdotes of how people have arrived with travelling bags and baskets filled with good books to give away to keen readers, resulting in delighted book stampedes. The group has been in operation for three years, is completely voluntary and not-for-profit and has led a nomadic existence, hopscotching their way through various venues – some more welcoming than others.
It has also spooled off into other arts related events – an Open Mic has become a sporadic fixture in its calendar – as well as book-related philanthropy. At the last event, a call by a group member for donations for a small library based in Galle drew about 250 books within a week’s notice. In December 2014, the group made a donation of Sinhala books to the prison and plans are in the pipeline to partner with other organizations for more book-related charity events and performance arts events.
Book Swap Colombo meets bi-monthly within the city and the next book swap will be held in June 2016. Details about upcoming events, book updates and books to be swapped are updated to their Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/colombobook/