Tired of swiping left on Tinder? Coffee Meets Bagel and Bumble just not doing it for you? You may have been there, done that –– but you are still single. If you find that just meeting someone based on their appearance and a short bio just doesn’t cut it for you, you may want to show up for the next event hosted by Kelab Buku Singles, a mixer in hosted KL for singles who are into books.

The club was started by Al Ibrahim, who started the club because he loves books and bringing people together. He’s a 33-year-old writer, photographer, and filmmaker from Bauchi, a small city in the North-East of Nigeria. Al first moved to Malaysia in 2006 for university and has been living and working in KL as a video content producer for an Ed-Tech company for the past ten years.

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We spoke to Al to find out more about his unique club.

How did the idea for the club come about?

In 2020 and 2021 –– during the height of the pandemic –– I started two different book clubs with two different groups of friends. Each month, one of us would choose a book –– the only rule we had was that the book has to be less than 300 pages long –– and at the end of the month, we'd meet online and discuss our thoughts and feelings about the book. I enjoyed that tremendously. It provided a structure and gave me something to look forward to during a lockdown where every day felt the same as the one before.

After the lockdowns, I found myself single, so I thought of expanding the book club to meet other like-minded people.

My friend Millie, who runs her own book club for women, suggested that I do a book-swap event instead because, in traditional book clubs, people often don't end up reading the assigned books. And honestly, that small tweak was the game-changer!

Tell us how the events work in your own words.

The event is essentially three things put together:

The first is an ice-breaking game. In the beginning, people pair up randomly and I give them a question –– for example, ‘What's something you love doing but don't do enough?’ –– and they have about 2 minutes to answer. After that, they switch partners and go again. This goes on for about 15 minutes or until everyone has met everyone else.

The second part is the main event, which is the book pitch. We sit around in a circle and people talk about the book they chose for the theme one by one. The format is usually something like “This book is about X, I chose it because of Y, and I think you'd love it if you're Z”, but of course, people can choose to do that in whatever way they feel the most comfortable.

After a person pitches the book, we open the floor for questions. People can ask them about anything related to the book. Usually, they ask the person about characters they relate to the most, or ask them to read their favourite passage. And if the book has a TV or movie adaptation, someone might ask how it compares to the book.

The final part is the drinks and mingling session, which actually happens throughout the event because, after every section, there's a break where people get to talk further, ask questions that they wouldn't want to ask in a group, and even exchange books.

What themes have you had so far?

We've had three events so far. The first is a book you can talk about for hours. The most recent one ‘Closer than they appear’ is about characters that you surprisingly relate to. And the second one –– which is my favourite so far –– “I read this book because I love you" –– is all about books you read because of an ex.

How many people have signed up for the events so far and how many have you hosted?

We get a healthy number of sign-ups. The issue is usually people actually showing up on the day, especially because at this point –– mostly for logistic reasons –– we can only host about a maximum of 14 people at a time, so even a couple of people not showing up can vastly affect the numbers.

Any success stories to share with us of couples who have become an item after the events?

I don't know, because this is not something I follow up on. But I can tell you that after each of the three events so far, some of the participants, most of whom have only just met each other for the first time that evening, go ‘makan’ together after. They choose to keep spending time with each other. And honestly, that's enough for me.

The way I see it, the event is a spark, and what people choose to do with that spark afterwards is up to them.

Any big plans in mind for the club such as maybe turning it into an app?

In addition to the book swap events, we also make zines, and we're currently accepting submissions for the next one which will be published in December.

And next year, I'd like to try running the event with a bigger group; maybe 30 or so people broken into two groups happening concurrently. I'm curious to see how that would work.

But ultimately, this is a physical event and will remain so, God willing. Because the point is for people to meet each other in person, have a focussed conversation for two hours, and try to connect outside of the algorithm.

The mark of a successful event –– for me at least –– is that at the end of it, people leave feeling good. Good, because they've had a good time. Or because they'd made a connection with another human being. Or because they've learned or discovered something new about themselves.

This will always be the aim for Kelab Buku Singles.

This definitely sounds like an interesting concept and a more authentic way to meet a future partner or even just a good friend. Will you be signing up for their next event?

Follow Kelab Buku Singles on Instagram or check out their website.

Image credit: @alvinlaukb, @liylearnedthat, @irynnakwon, @ kelabbuku.singles, @ failedimitator