‘Birdhouse’ bookshelves encourage reading in Hanoi
Update: Feb 22, 2023
A cozy reading space created in the city's heart by Gen Z Hanoians contributes to promoting reading among youth.

The funky reading space of Bluebirds’ Nest Book Cafe. Photo: To Chim Xanh

Nestled in a narrow alley on Dang Dung Street, it has been a popular book cafe among young Hanoians since its opening in November 2015. The first floor features a cozy reading space with large bookcases and relaxing melodies. Meanwhile, the second floor is an open terrace encircled by green plants, where you can gaze at old apartment buildings and the rhythm of life in Hanoi.

“Free book exchange. Take a book. Return a book.” is the handwritten line on the front of a bookshelf designed as a dovecote - a nesting box made for doves on trees or in gardens.

Any reader can bring their books and deposit them in the ‘nest’ after picking up the ones already placed inside. This form of book swapping has been practiced at several cafes and public spaces in the capital.

Do Lan Phuong, a 26-year-old freelancer in Hanoi, is a girl who works for coffee shops three or four times a week. Outside work, she often explores entertainment spots around the city with her friends.

She found Bluebirds’ Nest by chance. At first, she went there to work as usual, yet the surrounding bookshelves - particularly the pigeon house - captured her attention, and she came across ‘The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends’, her favorite childhood fiction.

After learning that the bookshelf was for everyone to exchange books, she returned two days later and made a trade for her beloved fiction.

“I could have bought a new edition of this book, but I found it in this cafe, so I decided to swap it. I rarely read after graduating from college and starting to work.

The unexpected encounter with the book ‘The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends’ made me want to read books like when I was a junior high student,” Phuong shared about her new inspiration.

Various new books are availabe for book exchanging among readers at Bluebirds’ Nest Book Cafe. Photo: To Chim Xanh 

These bird’s nest-shaped bookshelves have different designs in different locations. According to Hoai Thuong, a representative of Le Book Club, the ‘nests’ are set up so that everyone from everywhere can come with books for exchange and together contribute to public bookcases.

After a while running the birdhouse, Thuong finds that foreign books and those on life skills are the most traded books and that more and more people become interested in these small “book’s nests.”

Not only engaging in this form of book swapping, but everyone can also contribute to other shelves at Le Book Club.

Thanks to these activities, Thuong and other club members can deliver donated books to young children in mountainous areas who lack funds and access to these precious assets. As Thuong watches the bookshelves slowly fill up, Thuong feels that what she does makes more sense than ever.

Creating giorgeous reading spaces may help spread the love for book among youth. Photo: To Chim Xanh

In addition, the bookshelves provide young bookworms with networking opportunities as well.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a 21-year-old girl living in Long Bien District, had an interesting book exchange. Just when she was about to make a trade for ‘The Girl on Paper’, a guest stepped into the room with the book in his hand, and they swapped in no time.

“Later, we became friends and planned to exchange more works. I learned that he’s quite into crime fiction, so after finishing one of that kind, I usually text him asking if he would like to try it,” she described their friendship made through books.

In parallel with setting up ‘bird nest’ bookshelves, many coffee houses also organize other activities for book-loving communities. Ngoc Lanh, a representative of Bluebirds’ Nest, said: “The ‘bird nest’ bookshelf is always filled with the books that visitors have traded. We arrange various book-related activities every month to encourage people to read. In particular, there are book-review events where young readers can freely share their opinions and feelings about the books they are reading or have read.”

The modest bookshelves for free exchange are increasingly welcomed and viewed as mini public libraries for book lovers. They are also regularly refreshed and diversified to meet the demand of readers. In the face of the domination of audiovisual media, many expect similar “bird’s nests” to appear in more coffee shops in Hanoi, thus further fueling the reading movement in the capital of millennial civilization.

Jenna Duong

Hanoi Times - hanoitimes.vn - Feb 20, 2023