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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor