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Out and About

Book Swap Club
Text Dominic Esler

The English-speaking social scene in Moscow has been enlivened by a recent arrival. Since last October the Book Swap Club, organised by Leyla Korkelia, has brought together a large number of people, both Russian and foreign, who want to exchange books and DVDs, make friends, and practice their English in a relaxed and informal environment. The Book Swap Club is held at public venues in the centre of the city every several weeks, usually on a Saturday afternoon. And it is worth bearing every element of its triple-barreled title in mind, as Leyla explains: “Some people may mistake it for book club, which we are not. We do not come together to discuss one single book that everyone in the club has read. The idea is different. We gather together to swap books and to talk on any subjects. In other countries book-swapping functions online, so swappers don’t see each other. In our case we communicate, and that is the point. We are all different but friendly. Also, no money is involved. No membership fees, no obligations. People like to be part of a club.”

As a social gathering the club has been a great success. Although a large amount of English-language material is exchanged at every event, there is no obligation to do so. Meetings often continue late into the evening, sometimes moving to other locations. According to copyright lawyer Maria Bukharova, “People create atmosphere and make an event a success or not. So fortunately in this case, despite the variety of the backgrounds, nationalities, ages (and maybe thanks to them) the whole ambience was just the right one, and I had a very good time indeed.” Tim Adams, an American engineer working in oilfield services in Russia since 2000, echoes these sentiments: “For sure the highlight of the club is the wide cross section of people and nationalities. The first meeting I attended had eighteen people from twelve nations. There are bankers, engineers, journalists, accountants, teachers and just about every other walk of life. It makes the stories varied and the cultural nuances very fun. And everyone has been wonderful and cordial.”

The original meetings took place at Costa Coffee, but the group quickly outgrew the space available and has since hopped between Starlite Diner, new Philippine restaurant Wokstudio Café, and, most recently, the NASA library at the Hotel Volga, which was proposed as a venue by NASA Intermediate Computer Engineer and club member Shawn Spradley. This location proved the quirkiest yet: the NASA library shares a set of rooms with the hotel gym, and it was intriguing to see piles of books balanced on exercise machines.

But with the number of attendees now exceeding thirty, is the club in danger of becoming a victim of its own success? Is there a need for a larger, permanent venue? Leyla remains unconcerned: “The club doesn’t need a permanent venue for the time being. The club is on probation.” I put it to Leyla that, having held eight successful events so far, the probation time seems to have passed. “Not for me. I think after a year of functioning, we can be sure of its prosperous future.”

The date and venue of the March event have yet to be decided. Email Leyla at or keep an eye on the following forums, where members will also post lists of books on offer:

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