STYLEGUIDE finds out more from Melissa Low and Eileen Lee, founders of Books & Beer Singapore who have refined the idea of a book swop to incorporate all that book lovers should enjoy: the exchange and passing on of books they love and authors they enjoy; the sharing of mystic and wonder and intellectualism; and the coming together of an eclectic mix over a pint of beer.
STYLEGUIDE: Tell us more about Books & Beer Singapore.
Mel & Eileen: Books & Beer is Singapore’s most established book swop. We are a not-for-profit, and have been around since June 2011. Book swops are organised once every two months, and typically takes place over three hours during a weekend, at a centrally-located F&B venue.
We receive a rolling crowd of some 60 – 80 attendees each time, who will bring with them several pre-loved books for exchange with the existing books laid out on makeshift shelving around the venue. While the swop is on-going, attendees will typically purchase a drink or two, engage in conversation with new friends, read a new book they’ve picked up.. Each individual decides how they will like to craft their very own Books & Beer experience.
On occasion, we will also run collaborative events which include components of ‘meet-the-author’ / book readings / signing sessions; book promotions; story-telling and arts and crafts (so our young parent attendees can enjoy their books and beer in peace!); book sales etc, as peripheral activities that take place during the book swop.
STYLEGUIDE: What is the inspiration behind Books & Beer?
Mel & Eileen: Books & Beer was established in June 2011 by the two of us when we first met while volunteering with the local environmental scene.
Eileen: Several months prior, Melissa had organised a book swop at her home for friends to refresh their reading list, and had offered up a crate of beer as an incentive for the uninterested - hence 'Books & Beer'.
Mel: Eileen was at the cusp of graduation from university, and realised that it was increasingly difficult to meet new, like-minded friends.
'Books & Beer' in a public setting seemed like a good potential solution, and the first session was then organised at the now defunct Post-Museum, which was attended by some 20 pax (a mix of existing supportive friends, who also brought along their other friends).
The session was well-received, which motivated us to then run the subsequent sessions - Books & Beer celebrated its 6th anniversary in July 2017!
STYLEGUIDE: What challenges did you face along this journey?
Mel & Eileen: When we first started Books & Beer, we would have to take time off our schedules to visit the venue, explain to the owner(s) exactly what we did, and convince them it would be worthwhile having us. We were fortunate to have met plenty of believers along the way, and many friends who have supported us with introductions to bars they frequent, friends of friends who were F&B owners etc. We’re glad to say this isn’t the case these days; we are frequently approached by venues who wish to host us, and now have the privilege of declining them (especially if they’re located above ground level without a lift!).
Books & Beer is a two-woman team, and we both hold full-time day jobs that require travel. As such, it gets tricky juggling our swop schedules with our travel schedules at times, and it occasionally lapses into three months before we organise a swop. We would love to do more – we’ve a whole wish list, and have been approached by various corporates and partners to collaborate, but are limited by time and expenses. We’ve been running the swop as a passion project, and it is one that is almost entirely self-funded – we’ll make a horrible business if we were one!
All the remaining books from each swop are currently stored at our homes, and we have to transport and lug these boxes of books to the venue each time an event is organised. It’s a huge workout, but also a very rewarding one, because we have amazing attendees who have no qualms about doing this heavy lifting with us!
STYLEGUIDE: What is the change that you would like to see or make in this world?
Mel & Eileen: Books & Beer gives us and the attendees a chance to recycle our books and share a space with like-minded people, and of course read more widely. Apart from encouraging positive habits, environmental consciousness and leaving one’s comfort zone, we hope that more of us will get out there, and self-develop by showing up and learning from life. Reading is great, but there’s also great value in learning from experiences to make you more adaptable and resilient to the ever-changing environment.
STYLEGUIDE: What genres of books are most popular?
Mel & Eileen: We don’t impose limits or curate the selection, and participants are free to bring any book(s) they like. We’re very well-stocked with fiction in general.
STYLEGUIDE: What is the most memorable book you’ve read?
Mel: Nothing really comes to mind. All of the books I’ve read are memorable in one way or another. Some I remember for who inspired me to read it, some I read because I’ve had a genuine interest in the author or issue, while others I get pleasantly surprised while reading it.
Eileen: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I first read the book for leisure, then had to review it for a module on Gender Studies, which forced me to go into a lot more depth. I love how Nabokov teases with his wordplay, and flirts with morality – it is a thought-provoking story that wheedles itself into the crevices of one’s mind, and is such a classic!
STYLEGUIDE: Any authors that you would highly recommend?
Mel & Eileen: Recommendations from the both of us:
· Tampa by Alissa Nutting
· Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe
· Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
· A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
· Quiet by Susan Cain
· Singapore is Not an Island by Bilahari Kausikan
STYLEGUIDE: What do you look out for in a book?
Mel & Eileen: We both read different genres and authors, so it’s hard to say! But suffice to say we both enjoy reading widely and Books & Beer offers the perfect opportunity to read outside of genres we would normally go for.
STYLEGUIDE: What’s next for Books & Beer Singapore?
Mel & Eileen: In March, we will be running a swop in conjunction with #BuySingLit to introduce more local literature and collaborating with a brewery, The 1925 Brewing Co. Restaurant, to bring local craft beer to our participants. Books & Beer x Buy SingLit will see us curating local favorites for sale at the event. We will also have curated readings and signing sessions by local authors!
Books and Beer Singapore will be celebrating their 7th Anniversary this June 2018! Follow them here for more updates on upcoming events!