Friday, February 24, 2012

Take a Look, It's In a Book!

I like reading. A lot. Admittedly I read less now than I did as a kid (thanks to the prevalence of the Internet), but I still would say I read a lot. Long subway ride? Crack open a book. Desk warming? Knock off another chapter. Waiting to meet a friend? You can squeeze a few pages in!

Since I also have the lofty goal of reading all of the books on TIME magazine's "Top 100 Novels of the Twentieth Century" list, there is also a level of aggressive list-item-checking going on that drives me onward. The only problem is, accomplishing this goal in Korea means, by default, acquiring lots of books. At home, I'm a big fan of the library. Obviously in Korea, there's not really any English language libraries, and even if the Korean ones have English books, I don't know how I could go around finding a library or getting a library card or whatever else.

Acquiring lots of books isn't even necessarily a bad thing (aside from the inherent expense), but the problem is that most foreigners here in Korea (myself included, kind of unfortunately) are here only temporarily. What do you do with those books once you have to go home? Sell some back to What The Book, give them away, leave them for your replacement, and schlepping them back home are basically your only options. No matter how you slice it, having a thousand books to worry about while you're packing and getting your pension settled and whatever else is  a pain in the tuchas. The less you have to worry about, the better.

This is all a long-winded rambly way to say that I am a lazy cheapskate who likes to read, and these three factors combined led to a brilliant insight on my part: book exchange! Though to be fair, I really kind of stole the idea from the great people at TheYeogiyo, who host one at the expat bar in Bundang, but I probably would have thought of it anyway.

I hosted one last Saturday (advertised entirely through the Uijeongbu Crew Facebook group) and though it was small, it went over quite well and everyone went home happy. My friend Yousef unloaded a huge number of books to make his move from Dobongsan to Uijeongbu easier and most everyone else went home with some new reading material. Plus, because I hosted it, all the surplus books are still in my apartment! Mwuahaha.

And while for me there's always something magical and therapeutic about going proper book-shopping, sometimes I really just need something (anything) new to read and I need it now. There was a nice (and unexpected) social perk too, as half of the people who showed up were people I hadn't met before. Despite being an introverted and somewhat asocial weirdo, it was a lot of fun for me and really one of the best circumstances under which I could imagine meeting new people. We had snacks, we chatted about the books and other things, it was nice. I hope to soon move it out of my apartment into a converted retail space that one of the foreigners here recently purchased with the aim to make it a workshop/learning/social space, if only to make more room for people.

It seems like a patently obvious thing to do, but in all the years I've spent in the Uijeongbu Crew Facebook group I had never seen anyone suggest such a thing before. If there's not a book exchange in your neighborhood, set one up! It's a fun, no-pressure social event that declutters your apartment space and gets you new reading material on the cheap. The only catch is, you need a quick and easy way to advertise to people in your neighborhood: you might have to set up a Facebook group for your particular locale first, before you can get to book-swapping.

Now, to close out with some tips! Not to be condescending, but I guess because it feels like a post like this should have tips?

  1. Use the hell out of Facebook! Make the event a month in advance and regularly post reminders in the relevant group and on your wall to remind people, especially for the first few times. I posted a reminder once a week, and then in the week right before once every few days. Make the event open and allow other people to invite people.
  2. Use a central, easy-to-find location. My first apartment in Uijeongbu would have been a terrible place, requiring a change to a bus and convoluted directions about which stop to get off on and which way to go. Fortunately, I now live very close to Uijeongbu downtown so my apartment was pretty easy for people to find. If you're off the beaten track, see if someone else could host, or maybe ask at the favorite Western watering hole (if there is one), or wait for nice weather and have it somewhere outside!
  3. Have a fair amount of books yourself. While you should always be optimistic, of course, it really helps a lot if you have at least a modest sampling to start out with. If your library is pretty scanty, then enlist the help of a friend or co-worker to either definitely show up, or to at least donate their books beforehand.
  4. Be organized. I had a "give away forever" pile and a "loan/borrow only" pile. Either keep the books very separate, or encourage people to take their books back home with them at the end if they're "loan/borrow only" to avoid miscategorization.
  5. Have some snacks. Not really essential, but chatting and socializing is easier when there's food involved. I just ran out to the local market and got some apples, strawberries, and Pringles for people to nibble on, and people sure did nibble!
I think that about covers it. Anyway, back to reading!

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