I passed by BooksActually before on my way to the cupcakes at the end of the street. There was always a box of books in front of the store. I always took a peek at what was inside — usually mass market paperbacks or authors I never heard of.
Today there was a poster of Murakami’s newest book on the door, so I went inside.
The ladies at the counter greeted everyone who entered with a cheery “Welcome!” Towers of books stood shoulder-to-shoulder, invitingly. The shop felt small enough for me to browse, read first lines, and feel book covers — and large enough for me to do so without anyone hounding me with a shopping basket or whatever.
To me that’s important: the feeling of being at ease. One doesn’t usually enter a bookshop with a single title in mind and leave with just that, the way some guys shop for clothes. There’s an element of discovery; which book will I bring home today? Which book will find me? I feel that independent bookstores have the capacity to reach out to readers and would-be readers in a more intimate way than a mega-chain can. That’s why “independent” mustn’t, and shouldn’t ever, feel snooty and full of itself.
BooksActually stocks an impressive range of books, much better than what the boxes at the shopfront led me to believe. They also have Jack Kerouac pencils in cans, alphabet postcards, canvas tote bags with book cover prints, vintage collectibles, and signed books from local authors.
There is a Poetry Installation in one corner where, for “a tiny reward,” one could have a poem from a sheaf of thin pieces of paper speared to a log.
Another intriguing display in the shop: a new bright yellow book ‘Lemonade Revealed’ written by Will Chluho, which encouraged shoppers to pay what they felt like the book was worth. I cheated a little bit and looked for some sort of price anchor — on the reverse it said $29. Didn’t say whether it meant US$ or S$.
They also have a ‘Gift Ideas’ section at the back with the sorts of bric-a-brac popular these days: mismatched china, colourful bottle caps, faded photos, glass bottles of all sizes, porcelain vases with Chinese script, vintage maps and old LP records.
What I like best about the shop — and what will keep me coming back — are the slim-bound volumes from Math Paper Press and other independent presses, books no fatter than a notebook. (I think I spotted one that was even photocopied and stapled together.) They were stacked to the left of the entrance nearer the back, and to the right on the low shelves. The covers were intriguing, and their prices ranged from S$5++.
Fleeting thought: underground cool-cat music dungeon where the next big thing was playing, except the dungeon is this shop and the next big thing was in the indie books I held in my hands.
* Update: BooksActually sells online! Link here.
No. 9 Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru, Singapore 168645