Arifa Akbar: Swapping books can be a complex, ego-bound business

The Week in Books

Remember the survey that exposed the lie behind our bookshelves? The shame of how we display the books that we'd like to be known for reading rather than the books we've actually read, which lie under our beds or on our eReaders like miniature, fetid, Dorian Gray portraits. So Ulysses on the bookshelf to Harry Potter on the gizmo.

I was reminded of it this week when talking to Scott Pack, publisher of The Friday Project who is, quite separately from his day-job, bringing a new event to Foyles bookshop, in London. It will be a quarterly residency called the Fire Station Book Swap, beginning on 25 March, and it does what it says on the tin (minus the "fire station" bit) – it invites authors and audiences to bring one book that they'd like to swap. They must, over the course of the evening, punt that book and go home with another that they've perhaps been meaning to read for years, or alternately, a hitherto unknown title that they have been beguiled by over the course of the evening.

Little did Mr Pack know what hairy territory he was stepping into when he set up the event a few years ago, which has since become a regular – and apparently over-subscribed – night out for book-lovers in Windsor. He couldn't, when I spoke to him, vouch for how many copies of Ulysses had successfully been swapped, but what he did say was fascinating. There may be an element of disingenuity in what people bring with them, he thought, which corresponds with the bookshelf/eReader equation – so what they'd read versus what they'd like to be seen reading versus what they wouldn't be caught dead reading.

But it is often more complicated, and interesting, than that. The exchange is not equivalent to dumping books you no longer want down the local charity shop. You are there to talk a title up, get its future owner excited about reading. The book is as interesting as its owner, in this respect.The most fought-over book in one of Mr Pack's events was – surprisingly – a collection of Latin poetry with no English translation. "I thought it would be impossible to swap, and then had to fend off offers for it."

The result of a silver-tongued swapper? No-one, he continued, had ever brought 50 Shades along, which is perplexing, given the sales figures, while David Nicholls's bestseller, One Day, has been brought countless times but has never been successfully swapped. There are those who specifically purchase an extra copy of a much-loved book and rave about it all night. Does this defeat the object of the game (to spring clean your bookshelf)? No matter, if these people fall in the "any-chance-to- proselytise" category, then I would probably be among them. But then in swapping a book thus, you are endorsing the worth of a story that has marked you. For this reason, the bookshelf self-consciousness, perhaps.

Others haven't wanted to part with books they love, Mr Pack said, so they have clearly brought along "a book they don't like so much, and it is fun to see them try to pitch it to the audience without letting on that they don't like it". It takes all sorts, I suppose, even those who come with their own two-for-one offers! The best kind, to my mind, have come with personal stories, which both proves the worth of a book as a physical object, and also confirms it is much more than this; its physicality is saturated with other less tangible but meaningful attachments. What would I take? Perhaps a book that would at once massage my ego and undercut it – so my university copy of Ulysses, filled with a storm of bewildered comments and question marks along the margins. It would, I hope, offer both comfort and entertainment to its new owner.

The mystery of the disappearing scrolls at the folio prize party

Each shortlistee at this week's Folio Prize was given a letterpress certificate or "scroll", its design inspired by books produced by The Folio Society. George Saunders received his winners scroll with clear delight. Until he realised that he had lost it. Not just Saunders either.

Another shortlistee, Rachel Kushner, searching for her scroll, realised it had gone missing too. Who had them? Were they already snapped up on eBay? No. When they sat down for dinner later that night, Kushner's missing scroll turned up in Saunders's bag, while his own scroll was handed in to the press office the next day. "To lose one scroll may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness," as Lady Bracknell might have said to them.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living