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Book swap collective takes off

Update: April, 17/2014 - 09:47

Hanoi Book Swap has created a space for like-minded people to socialise and for readers to put books they have finished reading to good use

Common interest: Socialising and reading at the Hanoi Book Swap club at Commune Cafe. – Photo by Aimee Millwood

by Aimee Millwood

An avid reader, Jaclyn Armstrong was browsing through novels at a bookstore when she realized that during her nine months in Ha Noi, she frequently bought books she read once and often never touched again. While selling those books was an option, she felt would rather give it to another reader for free.

"I was tired of buying expensive books, so I posted on the Facebook group Ha Noi Massive to see if anyone wanted to have a book trading dinner," she said.

Jaclyn, a Los Angeles native who teaches children's fitness in Ha Noi, found an overwhelmingly positive response to her query, so she decided to establish a book swap facility. She combined forces with Commune Cafe and Red River Tea Room to hold regular meetings of the Hanoi Book Swap.

"We decided to set up small libraries for people to use when they wanted to trade books between meetings," Jaclyn said.

The first meeting of the Hanoi Book Swap was held on January 22 at Commune Cafe. Since then, it has become a regular meeting group of about 20 people. Hanoi Book Swap has also set up lending libraries in Commune Cafe and the Red River Tea Room.

The libraries have books in English, French, German, Vietnamese and other languages. Additionally, teachers have brought in teaching resources and books for others to copy or use.

Come with a book

Reading is mostly a solitary act, but the Hanoi Book Swap turns it into a social activity. While book clubs are popular globally, in Ha Noi, it can be difficult and expensive for everyone to buy and read the same book.

"The Hanoi book swap is great not only for exchanging books in a friendly environment but also for meeting and connecting with interesting people in the community," said Austin Mersereau, an English teacher who has been here for about 18 months.

Expats in Ha Noi tend to frequent the same venues and interact with their established cliques. Nightlife is social, but not always the best environment for mingling with a new crowd. The Hanoi Book Swap offers an intimate social setting where people can meet new friends with similar interests.

"Book swap is the perfect event to really bring diverse people together," said Commune Cafe owner Jeremy Wellard.

"Hanoi can feel so disconnected at times and Book Swap has helped plenty of locals and expats meet new friends over a shared love of good (or bad) fiction."

Elisabetta Borzini, who arrived to Ha Noi just when the book swap began, said, "Through the group, which seems to grow bigger each time, I've met new people similar to me who also share a passion for books."

In a place with so many transient visitors and expats, the Hanoi Book Swap not only allows new arrivals to meet people but also those ending their time here to donate their books to a good cause.

"I travel frequently for my job," said Elisabetta, who works for the United Nations. "So I don't ever bring books with me and always have to buy them and then leave them behind to whoever might take the house after me. Book swapping is a great opportunity to leave something behind but, at the same time, leave it to someone who cares." — VNS

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