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Walking along Haji Lane, you would hardly notice the slight staircase that leads up to Bar Stories, unless you’re looking specifically for it. The slow climb up makes you feel expectant, as if something awaits you at the top of the stairs.

BOOKS & BEER #3 was held here last Saturday, and what a perfect venue it was, for a literature-related event. The name itself, ‘Bar Stories’, evokes an image of exciting exchange: men and women sipping a well-made cocktail, telling each other tales about their lives. Just like books, but with words spoken aloud.

The book swap was held in the room away from the main bar. I had brought along about ten of my own books, and a woman approached to help me place them on the various shelves. All around me were people sipping a drink, and holding a book in their hands. I looked through the ones that had already been laid out, and picked up a copy of Ali Smith’s The Accidental, a book by a writer I enjoy.

What I liked most about the book swap was not merely the opportunity of letting go of some of my books and the thrill of finding a new read, but the opportunity of meeting a like-minded crowd of book lovers. I spoke to a man who picked up some of my books; I picked up some of his. I thanked him for George Orwell, and he thanked me for Philip Pullman. Now we both know that our books will be going to a good home.

BOOKS & BEER presents book readers with a new opportunity of exchange amidst Singapore’s growing arts community. While similar books with yellowed, faded pages may be picked up at any secondhand store, a book swap allows a reader access to the history of a book: where and when it was first bought, whose hands it passed through before it sits here in your own, and why the previous owner is giving this copy up.

I also met both the organizers of the Book Swap, Melissa and Eileen; they told me that the number of people turning up at the previous Books & Beer events has been doubling each time; from 12 to 24. At Saturday’s event, more than 45 had arrived with a load of their own books.

When and where was the first books & beer held?

Melissa: I organised the first B&B at my house in January of this year. The event was initially called “Book Trade” but failed to entice my friends to spend an afternoon swopping books. So I promptly went and spent around $100 buying a carton of beer, hot dog buns and sausages, and changed the name to “Books & Beer”. The event drew about 13 people.

What inspired you to begin this event?

M: I had accumulated many books over the years, and was running out of space to store them! On several occassions, my book-reading friends and I would discuss trading books either permanently or temporarily but the idea never materialised. I eventually got tired of this and began exploring the option of organizing my own book trade!

What do you like most about organizing Books & Beer?

M: Since B&B #1, my friend Eileen, whom I met while campaigning for climate action in Copenhagen jumped in and offered to help with her PR and corporate communications skills! It’s always fun to have a friend to bounce ideas off to, and to have an excuse to visit funky cafes and bars in deciding where to hold the next B&B. It also gives us an opportunity to meet more like-minded individuals to expand our network of friends and business associates!

Who are your favourite authors?

M: Ken Follett, James Frey and Terry MacMillan (Yes, all Oprah Book Club recommendations!)

When will the next Books & Beer be held, and what should we look forward to?

M: We’re hoping to have the next B&B as a ‘Back to School Special’, where all tertiary students can come swop textbooks before the new semester begins. It should be held in early August. Of course, fiction and non-fiction will still be welcomed!

The growing number of attendees is testament to the burgeoning community of book lovers in Singapore, and the loosening of a mindset: books no longer have to be brand new, for one to fall in love with them.

– Natalie Chin

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