Thursday, April 14, 2011

Talking about books in Singapore


Singapore, flatters you in all ways. Spartan road, classy malls, state of art electronic gadgets, pubs with good music and an almost perfect transport system, you name it Singapore has it. As a woman I enjoy a freedom I have never dreamt in India. I’ve traveled back alone at almost every hour of the day. Seeing thighs and bra straps in public doesn’t embarrass you anymore.

Utopia? Well if you read books. Welcome to my paradise. They have a chain of government run libraries, well stocked with books of all genres. Even better is the fact that they have library within 15 minutes of any place. All I had to do was get a membership and I was on my way to the sea-of-stories.

I’m not a book reviewer. I simply read them. Some are interesting and some are not. Yet I love them all. I buy books, borrow them and even don’t mind reading English text books of school goers. Now, it wasn’t all that fun to realize that buying books here is a luxury. It is expensive and it is not always that you will get a book you want. I cribbed about it for a year to anybody who cared to listen and packed more books than pickles on the journey from India much to Amma’s vocal chagrin. (My mom-in-law, sweet as she is, never commented. Probably mentally wondered about my priorities and her “poor” son’s comfort issues).Nevertheless, I spent more time shopping books than cottons when I went to India.

Bras Basah Complex,Singapore
So last Friday, I had dashed through a meeting at City Hall and was free by four in the evening. After I snubbed my boss by not going back to office, I stood there scratching my head,” What now? Why not Bras Basah Complex?”

Now Bras Basah Complex is not a glitzy mall. It is something like the old Esplanade in Convent junction Kochi.Just that it has more open shops.Old, but well maintained building with book shops and a food court. They have books shops which sell used books. This was my attraction.

So I dashed in to “Book Point”. It was a small nondescript book shop. I knew what I wanted. I was searching for Daniel Silva’s “The Kill Artist”. Apparently National Library Singapore had only couple of copies of the above with them. This book is the first one of Gabriel Allon series. I was itching to start with this book, so that I can read the books in the order it was released. (I prefer reading books in the order they are released. Even if they might seem independent of each other, there are always fine threads picked from earlier books which you will enjoy only if you read them in the order.)

Book Point

Within three minutes I got what I wanted. So I went on to browse the books and picked up a couple of others. As I approached the payment counter, I checked “Do you have a copy of The Tenant of Windfell Hall by Anne Bronte?”*

She said,” We have a bigger shop on 3rd floor. Check there. Here is your bill and I’ve put an additional 10% discount.” I had purchased 3 books in extremely good condition for under 20 SGD.

I moved to 3rd floor only to be stumped. There I was in the middle of books. Rows of wooden cupboards stood wall to wall, floor to ceiling, overflowing with books. I stood in the midst of books filling my self with the smell of books. The musty odor of old paper was intoxicating. I had to try hard to hide my overwhelming enthusiasm. The books were well arranged. I picked up the Anne Bronte in two minutes flat. My hands trembled. This was the book that had gone out of print for a long time. Written by a girl who died by the time she was my age, this book was explosive in its narration. It had an era in awe. Much less celebrated than her sisters Emily and Charlotte, this Bronte sister holds a very special place in my heart. She was the most prolific and most talented of the three.

The friendly guy at counter looked at me and smiled. He acknowledged my taste in books. I was not just another flirt to books or one having flings with books; I was the “Juliet” to books. This is a quiet message that passes only from a passionate reader to a passionate book seller. We both appreciate each others presence in the world. They had a collection of National Geographic from 1900’s as well and plethora of genres to choose from. I was in love with the place. Not because the books where cheaper. But there was passion and real love for books. They were there not because they had no choice, but because they wanted to. And most importantly they had books which are forgotten by the mass retailers of books but have quiet admirers like me.

*The Tenant Of Windfell Hall: You may check the wiki. Still, I have to say a few words. It is the story of young woman who escapes from her husband with her child and lives as a tenant when English law forbid a woman from walking out on her husband, having legal rights, file for a divorce or have custody of children. The book, was as expected, not well received by the Victorian English. They complained about the rebellious nature of the protagonist and the general tone of the book being disagreeable.
“In response, Anne wrote her now famous preface to the second edition in which she defended her object in writing the novel, saying that she did not write with the intent of amusing the reader or gratifying her own taste, but because she "wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it”. She added that she was "at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man".


  1. I will try this one. thanks :-)

  2. Good Good...I'm sure you will like it..

  3. Wonderful!!

    There isn't a company as pleasing as books!!

  4. i hope i get her in my hand...wud love to read!!
    Like esplanade in kochi? LOL

  5. Now you are tempting me to come to Singapore. I am sure they have children's books too? I could almost smell the odor of used books and could feel your excitement. I look for used book shops wherever I go too. I have not read Anne Bronte's book though.

    Your best post till date.

  6. @Vyankatesh:I couldn't agree more..
    @RedHanded:Try secondhand book stores..Kochi used to have a pen books..I'm not sure if it still functions
    @Zephyr Akka:When you come you know whom to meet...:D..Childrens book..yes..But then I was too excited to actually check them out..I remember seeing some vintage Grimm brothers..

  7. I liked this sentence-'we both "appreciate" each other's presence in this world'..hehe:)

    I don't have patience to go through books, but I enjoyed reading this post..

  8. Thanks Prasad.A person who writes will enjoy books..Try short stories..

  9. Books are the best companion in times of boredom and travel.......nowerdays Laptops and cellphones have taken over that exclusive domain

  10. Good to see a genuine book lover! Books are indeed treasure for life! Good article. Keep blogging!!

  11. @Deguide:Tell that to GenZ..I hope e-readers help.
    But can them smell of paper and ink?Can they create the rustle sound?
    @Sibi:Thank you..I relish the compliment..I loved your post on dietary nuances..It was a wonderful..

  12. :) now you are freee to carry pickles from your next indian trip!!

  13. Have you tried ordering from Flipkart? Of course nothing comes close to the feeling of walking into a bookstore - rows and rows of books, the smell of new paper, gliding your fingers on their smooth covers, your mind is in a turmoil - so many to chose from, which one do I leave behind!!

  14. Most of the libraries in Singapore are a great place for books esp. The Woodlands Civic centre library. Thanks for the suggestions:-)

  15. @Magiceye:You bet and all those masalas..
    @Purba:Aiyla!!I'm flattered.Good I don't own a credit card.hehehe.They deliver only in India.Thats fine,I can order and pick them at leisure..
    @Sanjeev:I havenot tried the woodlands one.Will try that out..