Bookswap Sri Lanka; the miracle of multiplying books

Bookswap Sri Lanka; the miracle of multiplying books

Frances Bulathsinghala,
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Ever walked into a book store, saw a whole heap of books you wanted but realized that there was a mismatch between your want and your purse? Well, among people who fall into the category of bookaholics this may be a frequent catastrophe. But in Sri Lanka two individuals have come up with a concept of ‘book abundance’ and it has taken the island’s capital by storm, where every month it rains books; literally! The mother – daughter duo, Chandrika Gadiewasam and Nadeesha Paulis, incurable book lovers, have conjured up the magic of book multiplying that is based on a principle of sharing what you love and benefitting even as you ‘let go.’

“You come with one book and leave with many. You give away books you don’t want and find ones that you would probably been looking for years. You lend books you want back and borrow ones that interest you that others are willing to lend. You meet people who love books. You meet writers and those who want to start writing,” explains Chandrika and Nadeesha describing their brainchild, aptly named ‘Bookswap.’

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Chandrika, who works as a librarian at a reputed Colombo based research think tank and has also co-authored a book of short stories with her daughter has always been book addicted and like any book addict had long been discussing with other addicts (of books that is) how this particular addiction has the danger of cornering oneself into eternal penury.

Mother daughter duo, Nadeesha Paulis and Chandrika Gadiewasam.

For the average bookie walking past the glass doors of jam-packed bookshops with a hang-dog look, Bookswap seems the perfect answer of not being tempted to rob a bank and being jailed for it, all for the love of reading! With Bookswap, many books which would have cost thousands ofrupees if they were to be hauled off bookshop shelves is made available from generous hands as books enjoyed by one reader gets passed onto another. Primarily the books that are brought to Bookswapare English books but there also occasions when Sinhala and Tamil books and even foreign language books such as French and German have been brought to the venue and found their way to some welcome home.

Book lovers meet once in two months, usually on a Friday evening, at a pre-planned venue, usually a Colombo based café or restaurant or even park. Many prominent restaurants in Colombo have hosted Bookswap, happy for the publicity it gives them and Nadeesha who is the livewire behind the event is well known and has no problem in getting invitations from prominent restaurants who volunteer to host the event. Bookswap which started with just four people coming together to share books, today has a facebook following of over 6,000 members of largely Colombo based book lovers, and over a year back inspired some of its fans to start Kandy bookswap in Sri Lanka’s hill capital.

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Significantly, the event has grown beyond a mere book exchange and the bookswap group which is very active online organizes projects that range from supporting rural libraries to starting book donation schemes for elders homes.

Bookswap also promotes writers, especially new writers but encourages people to buy the books of these upcoming authors rather than swapping them. The Bookswap blog has interesting tips on how to organize oneself to start the journey of being a novelist or short story writer. Over the years bookswap has hosted veteran writers to speak of their books. The Facebook group also allow posts where readers who want to sell some of their books for a nominal rate can do so and has alerts on book sales happening around the city as its many members drop a quick line if a sale is happening and there are subsequently a horde of responses as people rush to the location.

How Bookswap started 5 years ago was after being influenced by a simple idea of getting together a few people who love reading who could bring some of their books and exchange them with others, while joining in for a ‘book-chat’ over tea, coffee and snacks.

“A cousin of mine who was living in UK casually mentioned one day how people just gather at a house of a friend once in a while to meet over a book or two and some tea and discuss what they were currently reading. As I pondered on this idea I also got thinking how attached we are to the books we own, with most of us immediately writing our name on it and keeping our books all to ourselves. After discussions with my daughter and brother, Namal, we invited a few friends to a restaurant at one of the shopping malls to ‘exchange and talk books’,” reminisces Chandrika. That was in 2013 and many books have exchanged many hands since then.

She swears that something magical happens and that each Bookswap which attracts around 30 to 40 people, end up never running short of books. As Nadeesha explains, there have been boxfuls and bagfuls of books gifted by people, with much enthusiasm shown for sharing books. “Even after everyone has lugged cartloads of books home there are enough left and we tell the staff of the restaurants who host the event to keep the books for people who come to their venue who may like to read.”

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The fact that there is no particular restriction on the genre of books shared on Bookswap makes it all the more interesting. All kinds of books from history to novels to biographies are bought. Occasionally someone desperately looking for a particular type of book would put up a post on facebook asking if a person in the group has it and often the book match is made.

Although the bookswap event encourages people to come armed with books, there is no militant rule that this has to be so, points out Nadeesha. The Bookswap blog tells its fans: “We like it when everyone brings at least one book, so that the concept of sharing grows stronger every day… But hey! Don’t be shy. Even if you don’t have a book to exchange, just drop in and see if there’s any book that you would like to read.” Thereby is explained the beautiful spirit of bookswap. Sometimes there would be some young person not fluent in English who would tentatively ask if some books could be recommended to improve their language skills and Nadeesha would take the trouble to recommend a host of books and be graciously welcoming so that the youth feels very comfortable attending the event.

“It is Nadeesha who runs the show now. I hardly get involved. My role was in coming up with the idea and giving it the initial moulding that was needed,” says Chandrika. The scope of bookswapas been really taken forward by leaps and bounds by its many fans, explains Nadeesha, who points out that there have been people who had organized bookswap events in their offices.

With Sri Lanka being part of the South Asian region and South Asia being very much a small section of the global village, maybe there could be a day when there is a collective South Asian bookswap held at some ‘South Asian venue’ organized by Bookswap Sri Lanka.

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