Avid readers spread the habit

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Young people offer books for free reading in public spaces

Several people of different ages visit the book stall arranged on the tiled floors of a gazebo at the city's Tao Dan Park by Nguyen Thu Hien (right) and her friends

Nguyen Thi Hien is up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, eager, like many Ho Chi Minh City residents to get to the local park.

The 22-year-old plans to meet with 19 other college students, but they are not cramming for exams or doing morning calisthenics. Hien has hit upon a scheme to spread her love of reading among city residents.

The group, divided into three teams, gather at Le Van Tam, Tao Dan and Gia Dinh parks in the city to display books of different genres ranging from fiction and comics to history and philosophy. People of all ages are invited to read them for free.

As usual, this Sunday, Hien assigns herself, Nguyen Ngoc Thanh Nam and Luong Thanh Anh Duc, the seniors of the city's University of Science, as well as Nguyen Thi My Le of the University of Finance and Marketing, to spread their wares at the Tao Dan Park in District 1.

At 9 a.m., several people, including new and regular readers and some Korean volunteers who sometimes come to clean up the the park, are drawn out of curiosity at the foursome's "book stall" arranged on the tiled-floor of a gazebo.

A red banner that proclaims Doc sach mien phi (Reading books for free) hangs from the gazebo roof.

Thu Hien, who developed a deep love for books when she was a child and spent all her allowance on them, said the idea of bringing free books to people came to her in 2009 as she was watching a television program about groups of young people in Australia and America who carried books in carton boxes and invited people on the street to read them for free.

"There are many people who love reading like me, but not many can afford to buy for themselves, especially the poor students from areas outside the city," said Hien, who donated more than 200 books to the project in its initial days.

Agreeing with Hien, her friend and fellow volunteer Duc, said, "It is a waste to keep books on shelves after reading them just once, so the best way is to share them as a source of knowledge with as many people as possible."

Tran Thi Thuy Dung, 22, from the southern province of Binh Phuoc, finds herself at the park every Sunday to read the books on offer.

Dung, who also contributed some of her old books to the project, said that books covering culture and customs of people from different areas in the world were her favorites.

"Each book is a new experience, telling me about places I have never been to. But at the price of VND40,000-50,000 each, they are quite expensive to buy," said Dung.

Besides contributing money and time to the reading project by classifying and covering books with plastic wrappers, each member is required to read a certain number of books, including the "basic" ones, so that they can introduce them to other readers.

Nguyen Thi My Le used to be a regular reader before she joined the group as a volunteer a couple of months ago.

The 21-year-old student from the central province of Quang Nam, who was interviewed by the group, said, "I thought by joining the group, I would have a whole day (from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) to read books, but now I find it's more rewarding to have as many people as possible reading our books."

The books can be borrowed by both public readers and group members to read at home.

The group's stock of 1,500 titles are being strengthened with donations by both readers and admirers of the project. The books are now stored in houses located near the three parks on the suggestion of the house-owners themselves who sought to reduce the burden on the young people.

Worthy of emulation

Five months ago, a project to put up bookshelves was realized by a group of new graduates in Phu Yen Province's Tuy Hoa Town.

After graduating from the Viet Tien Technology College, Tran Nam Trung and his friends began the reading club with a little more than 100 books.

"I used to frequent bookstores and read books without paying since I could not afford to buy new ones. So I think a source of good books will be very helpful for book-lovers who don't have the money," said Trung, who also opened a tea shop with the help of many locals to serve his readers on site.

Nguyen Viet Dang Trinh, a club member and student of the Nguyen Hue High School, said members gather every week to share books on different themes.

Pham Nhat Quy, another club member and student of the College of Construction No.3, said the main goal of the club is not to collect and store books, but to encourage more people to read them.

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