Bonding Over Books in the Middle of a Pandemic


In the middle of the community quarantine in May, a book community was born. When Covid-19 caught the whole world by surprise, everyone was forced to stay inside. Bookworms in Iloilo City were confronted by two things 1) bookstores are closed, 2) running out of books to read. During this time, barter became a trend as people had difficulty accessing goods, they end up exchanging items with each other. Facebook barter groups suddenly took over people’s newsfeed. For Books4Books founders, it became difficult to search for book exchanges. We decided to create a separate group focusing on books.

Michael Ceasar Tubal was quick to create the group, while Marvin Monfort, Noel de Leon, and Adelle Pacificar were also onboard to help moderate. We started adding our friends, students, and family members. We also jumpstarted the exchange by posting our books which we wanted to give away. Soon enough, the members also took the cue.

Some members share that when they started joining the group, they saw it as an opportunity to declutter. There are books from their childhood that they want to share with their fellow members who have kids. There is chic lit that they want to share with their fellow members who just want a light reading in the middle of all the bad news. And then there are books that are waiting for the right Books4Books member to finish. After five months of book exchange, most members ended up with a taller pile of books to read, needing more shelves to arrange.

What made the exchanges convenient for the members is the generosity of Book Latte. Members can leave their books in a designated area in the cafe for the other members to claim. The cafe also served as drop off point for donations during a book drive that the group supported. If you see people dropping by at the cafe during Saturdays, chances are they are members dropping off their books for exchange.

One of the reasons why our hauls grew taller every week is the TGIF or Thank God It’s Free Book Bday, which was suggested by writer Early Sol Gadong. Every Friday, members post books that they are giving away to other members without anything in exchange. A gem I was lucky to receive is a copy of “Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man” by Joseph Heller from poet, Anna Slater.

Aside from the regular discussions initiated by the admins, the members also organized monthly book club sessions which started in October. The group gets to vote on which book to discuss. The book club sessions motivated members to read. Beyond Facebook, the group has also partnered with Hubon Manunulat and Kasingkasing Press in organizing a series of talks featuring Ilonggo writers as part of the Iloilo Mega Book Fair 2020.

The Facebook group now has more than 2,100 members because of the generosity of the members and the effort of the admins to moderate and create activities. It has become a space where bookworms go to have social interaction in the middle of a pandemic that does not allow them to safely meet people face to face. The name Books4Books is a reference to a dating lingo, and true to its name, the members have built a relationship –one that is centered on the love of reading.

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Allyn Canja
Allyn Canja works for a contemporary art museum in Iloilo City. She is a fellow of the San Agustin Writers Workshop, and co-founder of Poetika.


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