Saturday, 31 December 2011

Some Pieces Fall In Place

Coming down from a long Christmas weekend of doing mostly nothing, I realise that it has come to a point where I can go for a month-long holiday and, upon returning to work, find myself not feeling refreshed. Bad sleeping habits might be a factor.

I wasn't sure how to respond to this post that filled the gaps in my pro-indie bookstore article. And I couldn't put a finger on what I'd felt as I typed it out.

One can say my piece was "biased". I was too tired or blasé to craft a more balanced take on the subject. Besides, some stories on small bookshops were recently published. Responses to Manjoo's Slate article, maybe?

I am aware that in Malaysia, there is no apparent reading culture. Rarely does the average reader's connection to books go beyond the product and the shelf it came from. How are books published? How does one write a book? What does it take to print one? Do readers know or care? Do they even need special places for buying or reading books?

Before he'd personally watched a pig get slaughtered or kill one himself, Anthony Bourdain claimed his understanding of where meat came from was not ...complete. Perhaps Manjoo's understanding of small independent bookstores would similarly benefit by an extended stay in Malaysia where he can witness the slow death of at least one indie bookshop.

I loved bookstores as a kid, but lamented my limited time in them as the folks had to leave for home. Though I have the freedom and money to spend in bookstores, I don't seem to be doing that a lot. Perhaps the force behind my piece was desperation. The urge to do something, however ineffectual, to delay the inevitable.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores may eventually be a thing of its past, but should its passing be brushed off with a toss of a pen, like Manjoo did, without a care for the people who work at and frequent those places? To be replaced with the likes of Amazon? Please. The thought of letting such a shapeless, faceless behemoth dictate what I can or should buy or download - and at what price - makes my blood run cold.

Maybe it's just me, writing about how I'm missing something that's about to disappear. Not like it's going to change anything, but it's better than doing nothing.



  1. Well, I wrote you were biased because...y'know, you work (freelance?) for a Malaysian Publishing House and all that. Me, I'm just glad we have a bookshop chain. But if they don't carry what I want, I go online. And no, I don't think brick & mortar bookstores will go extinct ever. Just as I don't believe dead-tree book will be totally replaced by the e-book.

  2. Somehow, I reminded of the way Western society transitioned from horses and ponies to automobiles. Where the personal touch of breeders and trainers were replaced by the cool detachment of salesmen and mechanics.

    Today, though, no one talks about that sweeping. They don't even give it a second thought. It's become a mere footnote of history.

  3. Khairul H: Oh no, I'm working full-time at a Malaysian Publishing House - not like that's a secret, is it?

    Your post addressed some of the things I deliberately omitted. You were right about a lot of things, including that bit about me being biased. I don't blame you at all for shopping online, either.

    The physical book may not go extinct - at least not in my lifetime, hopefully. But that format - and the brick-and-mortar shop - will become less common. It's a natural progression, I think.

    John: Well, I suppose somebody out there will be happy to do away with ink, paper bits, recycling bins and the whole business of logging for wood pulp...

    For me, e-reading as a trend or lifestyle began the day the Internet was opened to the public. As devices became more portable, the e-book will become more popular, and publishers and bookstores will have to adapt or die.

    What will be, will be.


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