I joined a bookstore tour in Singapore in November last year. Super late post! Entitled The Independent Bookstore Strikes Back, the tour was an event in the Singapore Writers Festival. What I found particularly novel (as a foreigner) was that it involved niche bookstores spanning across varied cultures, namely Malay, Chinese, and Indian. There were also a couple of bookstores with specific merchandise: designer books and children’s books.
My main takeaway from this: independent booksellers are in the business because of their passion and love for books. Not for money. Kind of resonates with me as a self-published author… Hah!
First stop was Wardah Books, located at Kampong Glam, smack dab in the heart of the Malay/Muslim literary heritage map. Its selection of titles includes books about Islam in English, personally curated by the store owner, Ibrahim Tahir. He spoke to the visiting group that crowded the cozy shop about the ups and downs of being a bookseller.
And also about a time when there were five bookstores in the vicinity. Sadly, only his persists today. I seriously got teary-eyed listening to him talk about his love for the written word and the store. Do visit for books on Islamic philosophy.
58 Bussorah Street
GGS Books & Stationary
Second stop was at the Little India Arcade, GGS Books & Stationary, which offers books in the Tamil language (one of the official Mother Tongue languages of Singapore).
The owner, despite hesitating to speak to a crowd, shared that the business was passed on to him by his father-in-law. He actually writes and publishes some of the storybooks and school booklets in his shop. Now that’s someone who treasures the language and the education around it.
48 Serangoon Road
Basheer Graphics is a design book and magazine store located at the Bras Basah Complex. It has become a sort of tourist destination, getting organized groups wandering around its aisles every now and then, according to the owner, Abdul Nasser. I have no artistic pretensions, but it was really nice to browse through the gorgeous prints.
In the end, I got a book about watercolor techniques for the daughter of a friend (she studies art and dabbles with the digital kind). If you are an artist or designer in any field, I’m sure they have books for you. Or get one as a gift for an artist you know!
231 Bain Street
BooksActually is more up my alley as a reader and writer, as it features fiction and literature. You will find a lot of Singaporean novels here, and some were even been published by the store’s very own imprint, Math Paper Press.
Kenny Leck, the owner, talked about the challenges of the business and how the store has grown too. A local poet, Pooja Nansi, was also there to share about her work and how local bookstores and presses support creatives like her. Do check out her book, Love is an Empty Barstool, here. Lovely and poignant.
They also have a vending machine for wrapped “surprise” books, which means you won’t know what’s inside till you’ve bought it. Love thrills? Try this out!
9 Yong Siak Street
Woods in the Books
Picture books galore! For kids, the young at heart, and parents, this is the bookshop to go to. The business, run by a couple, Mike and Shannon, is in Tiong Bahru, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the red dot and what is considered a hipster community—actually just a stone’s throw away from BooksActually. Anngee Neo, who illustrated Epigram Press’s The Rock and the Bird, talked a bit about the book and it winning the 2015 Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award. Cool, right?
3 Yong Siak Street
Grassroots Book Room
The last stop was Grassroots Bookroom, a Chinese bookshop that carries mostly adult books but also some children’s books. Unfortunately I had to run off to meet my family. Check this store out too.
25 Bukit Pasoh Road
All in all, it was a great experience! It’s nice to see what’s happening all around in the writing and publishing industry. More power to these great book lovers and their businesses! I now have plans to do my own independent bookstore tour here in Sydney. Watch out for my post on that!
What bookish activities are you up to in the next weeks? Feel free to drop me a comment below. XOXO