Tata Literature Live!

Book Swap: Not Just An Exchange of Books

Deepti Thomas

November 26, 2017

This article is part of our special coverage of Tata Lit Live!, a Bombay-based lit fest held between November 16, 2017, and November 19, 2017.

On the last 3 days of Tata Lit Live!, a book swapping event was held in the sunken garden where people could exchange their books for new “old books” of strangers.

I remember playing treasure hunt when I was younger. Upon being given a set of clues, I would excitedly crack each one of them and ultimately rush towards my treasure. Expecting similar levels of enthusiasm, I had envisaged a need for crowd control, as in the case of Black Friday sales. Surprisingly, everyone was civil and explored the treasure cavern in an orderly fashion.

The sunken garden was dotted with students from the JJ School of Arts capturing the scene and the interactions at the book swap. There was a little coffee stand and a sitting area where people went through their ‘new’ books marvelling at the range they had picked up, and their choices.

The books weren’t organized by any particular genre. Imagine going to a Crossword’s and finding a Wilbur Smith alongside a Vikas Swarup or Stephenie Meyer next to Jhumpa Lahiri. They were all mixed and lined up like domino stacks next to each other. Each one of us was walking sideways, immersed in the process of reading the title, assimilating the information, and making a quick decision for elimination or addition into their baskets.

So this is how it worked. One could exchange any number of books which weren’t course study books or glossy magazines. The volunteers would vet them and hand out a coupon. One could get the exact number of books as recorded in the coupon.

I took 16 books to exchange: 3 Better Photography magazines; my early books on fun science experiments with friends; early adopter books on social media marketing; an Enid Blyton; a Michael Crichton; a Robin Cook; one of my favourite cookbooks; and lastly, The Alchemist. I was initially hesitant to exchange these books. After all, I’d held onto these books, I’d grown up with them; it felt as if I was parting with my soul.

Every book I read becomes my Horcrux. It was almost impossible to part with my books on the first two days. Then I thought, “What better way to embrace connection than exchanging a part of you and welcoming a part of another?” The soul of a stranger you have never met or may never meet, but you might possess one of their books, and thereby, a part of them.

Edmund Wilson said that no two persons ever read the same book. I have been enamoured by the possible interpretations that emerge when people share what they’ve learnt. What if there were tiny booklets that came along with the books, in which each reader shared what they felt about the book? As the book was exchanged over and over, the reviews would get longer and lead us into a different world – one where strangers feel connected by the invisible chords of the books they read and the facets of thought they share. Tata Lit Live! encouraged us to leave a little note in the book, but not many people did so.

I also found the atmosphere and the people I met at the book swap interesting. There was a lady who exchanged her nonfiction books for fictional ones, a John Grisham and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes specifically. I wondered what made her shift preferences? Or was I reading too much into it?

What surprised me the most was that I had no clue what I was interested in picking up before I exchanged my books. As I sat down next to a couple engaged in a lively discussion, I was amazed at my selection.

I had picked up books on ancient Tibetan healing, behavioural strategy, meditation, an Indian author on learnings from accomplished social entrepreneurs, the 4th book in Orson Scott’s Earthfall’s series despite not having read the earlier 3, a Ken Follett, and a horror thriller.

I realized my choices were indicating the shift in my reading style, and the direction I wished to pursue at this stage of my life. It was surreal to be guided by my choices without consciously being aware of them.

We should have book swaps more often. To lose ourselves and then find ourselves; to embark on a journey halfway across the world; to meet characters of the book and the readers of those characters, and walk a mile in their shoes. To learn to let go of the old, so that a new adventure can come along and take us on a delightful journey all over again.

Book swaps teach us to be lighter, freer, be more open and accepting of the world, to be more inclusive and have lesser walls built around us. Akin to the ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, our love for books, bind us all.

Have you ever attended a book swap? Is exchanging or donating books an emotional experience for you? Share with us in the comments below.

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Deepti Thomas

Deepti Thomas

Deepti Thomas is a solo traveler and a storyteller at heart. She wonders if there is a Latin version of 'I write therefore I think'. She is often found lost in the passages of either a crime thriller or in the world of Tibetan Energy Medicine with the eternal hope of writing a book she would understand one day.

She works as a freelancer with The Curious Reader and also runs a home bakery for ketogenic desserts. Follow her on Instagram.