Book swops are hot

A website and public bookshelves are among the avenues people can exchange their tomes

A book you read once has been sitting untouched on your bookshelf for years. Why not swop it with someone who owns another book you are keen on?

This community spirit has prompted many young Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s to start book swops in different capacities. This could be running a book-exchange website, organising a regular gathering of literary-minded people or just strategically placing a bookshelf where strangers are free to drop off a book and pick up a new one.

For example, the website BooksAvenue, founded in 2012 by stockbroker Adam Chua, 31, and his engineer wife, allows people to meet online to swop their books.

The book gathering Ruxubooks, started this year by IT product manager Xu Ruixin, 28, gets "people to meet and exchange not just their books, but also their reading experiences".

Book-exchange corners have also sprung up outside residences, in cafes and at public places such as libraries. People can drop off their old books and pick up new ones there.


PHOTO: NUR KHAIRAH ABDUL RAHIM
I don't have to keep buying new books. My book is like my one-time investment ticket to other books.

MS NUR KHAIRAH ABDUL RAHIM (above) on book-swopping events. She exchanged M.R. Carey's dystopian zombie novel, The Girl With All The Gifts, for Paula Hawkins' best-selling psychological thriller, The Girl On The Train (2015), on book-swop forum BooksAvenue last month

Mr Chua believes book swops are here to stay. "They come at no cost and are environment-friendly," he says. "One book can be shared by 10 people, for instance, instead of 10 books by 10 people."

For avid reader Nur Khairah Abdul Rahim, 29, who "suffers" from the habit of buying too many books and reading them only once, book swops are a "perfect solution". So when the regional marketeer came across online book-swop forum BooksAvenue, she signed up immediately.

Last month, she exchanged M.R. Carey's dystopian zombie novel The Girl With All The Gifts (2014) for Paula Hawkins' best-selling psychological thriller The Girl On The Train (2015), which was put up for exchange by a student.

She met the student and had a pleasant conversation about their books. Most of all, she is happy she is saving money on books. She says: "I don't have to keep buying new books. My book is like my one-time investment ticket to other books."

The trend is also growing overseas. In the London book-swop campaign, which started in 2011, shelves were set up in train stations for commuters to exchange books.

Software engineer Yu Lu, 29, who attended her first book-swop session at Ruxubooks in July, gave away a beloved poetry book to another participant. In return, she got a self-help book. She says: "It was my first time reading a self-help book. I would probably never have thought of picking up such a book if I had not swopped it with someone else."


Call them book matchmakers

Stockbroker Adam Chua, 31, and his wife used to buy books at book sales, finding them to be cheaper and in better condition than those in second-hand bookshops.

He likes fiction and non-fiction while his wife, engineer Alexa Jiang, 29, prefers thrillers, romance fiction and chick-lit.

He says: "But we need to wait for book fairs to happen, which can take a few months."

So the couple, who got married in October this year, decided to set up a website, BooksAvenue, in 2012 to allow people to buy and sell books directly to one another online. But they found that people here seemed to prefer to exchange books for free.

So in 2013, they changed their not-for-profit site to focus on book swops. People can put down the book they are looking for and the books they wish to swop it with.

In August, Mr Chua added a forum to the site to make it more interactive, allowing users to post screenshots, emoticons and photos.

  • Different swops, different rules

  • The Book Exchange Corner at Togetherly Market

    For this book swop, wrap the book you want to give away, write a note about what it means to you and swop it for another wrapped book from a bookshelf. It will also have a written message from its previous owner. The swop is part of the Togetherly Market, a travelling pop-up lifestyle market held every two or three months.

    Togetherly Market is now on at the South Galleria, Millenia Walk, till Dec 15. Admission is free. For details, go to www.facebook.com/togetherlysg

    Books & Beer

    This travelling book swop is held every two months at different bars. The rules are simple: Bring up to 10 books with you, get them stamped and then start swopping. Apart from drinks you may order for yourself, everything else is free. For updates on the next swop, go to www.facebook.com/booksandbeersingapore

    Bookcase outside 81 Wolskel Road in Serangoon

    The rules are clear for this bookcase, which looks like an oversized mailbox. It has the words, "Take a book, leave a book", painted on it.

    It was installed by wedding planner Bryan Lim, 26, outside his semi-detached house in 2014 as part of a global book-sharing movement called Little Free Libraries. The movement saw participants building tiny libraries in front of their homes as well as bus stops and shops.

He and his wife act as middlemen, matching the person looking for a book with the one who has it for free. Mr Chua says: "It's our way of giving back to the community. We feel there is a demand for a book-exchange service here and we are willing to provide it."

Even though traffic is not high - the website gets about one posting a week - Mr Chua says he and his wife will continue to maintain it. They pay about $80 a year to host it.

He says: "We believe it's for a good cause. You can read more books at no cost. People would want this service if they get to know about it."

•To swop books online, go to booksavenue.co


Share stories and swop books

Ms Xu Ruixin, 28, had always dreamt of starting her own bookshop, but did not have the means to do so. So she decided on the next best thing: to organise book exchanges.

The China-born product manager in an IT company founded Ruxubooks this year, an informal group of readers who meet regularly to swop books and talk about what they read.

The group had its first meet-up in July at Booktique Where Writers Shop, an independent bookshop at Citylink Mall.

Eight adults, including Ms Xu, took along at least one book and sat around a table. They each had some time to say - in Mandarin or English - something about the book they had taken along. This could be interesting facts about the writer, a review of the book or a book recommendation.

One participant recited Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran's poem On Joy And Sorrow in Mandarin, from his famous 1923 book of fables called The Prophet.

At the end of the two-hour session, they swopped their books. Participants were left to decide if they wanted their books back. Those who did would exchange contact numbers.

Although the first meeting had no theme, the second one will focus on travel-related literature.

On why she started the book club, Ms Xu, who is single and was born in Jinan in Shandong province, says: "When you own a book, you tend not to treasure it. But when you borrow a book, you tend to treat it more seriously and are more likely to read it."

An avid reader who enjoys Chinese classics and essays, she was also inspired by book-sharing movements in other countries. For instance, people meet and exchange books at "book islands" in Beijing.

The name of the reading group and book swop, Ruxu, comes from a line in the Chinese poem, The Book, by Song-dynasty scholar Zhu Xi.

The poem is frequently quoted to illustrate the fact that if people can be broad-minded enough to tolerate and embrace different ideas, they will always have fresh perspectives.

The next session by Ruxubooks will be held on Jan 7 from 4 to 6pm at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. To sign up, go to www.facebook.com/ruxubooks


Book-swop corners

The Little Part 1 Cafe in Upper Thomson Road has a bookshelf for customers to pick and choose books to take home.

It used to be filled with books from the three owners' collection when the cafe opened in 2007. It later evolved into an active book-swopping corner where customers can donate books and take some home.

These literary nooks, where people can exchange books with strangers, have sprung up in public places in Singapore. Since 2014, all standalone and regional libraries have book-exchange corners.

In March this year, the Gardens Shop at Tanglin Gate of the Singapore Botanic Gardens started a book bank with 50 books contributed by the shop. They are kept in two bookcases outside the shop's entrance. Visitors can pick up a book or drop one off in exchange for a new title.

Ms Wee Swee Poh, chief executive officer of BP de Silva Holdings, the parent company of Risis, which manages the shop, hopes that the book corner "encourage(s) different families to interact with one another".

"Hopefully, this will help bring back a little of the 'kampung spirit' to the Gardens."

• Gardens Shop@Tanglin Gate, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Road; tel: 6475-1155; open: 9am to 7pm daily

•Little Part 1 Cafe, 15 Jasmine Road; tel: 6451-7553; open: noon to 10pm (Sundays to Thursdays), noon to midnight (Fridays, Saturdays and eve of public holidays), closed on Mondays and from 3 to 5.30pm on weekday afternoons

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Book swops are hot'. Print Edition | Subscribe