BooksActually. Unbridled with local flavour, even its name is an abbreviation of “Actually, we sell books” – a very Singaporean way of answering questions of what the store has. While most bookstores we know of carry loads of bestsellers and the books in-trend, the shelves in this cosy place have some Singaporean titles like “Balik Kampung” blaring at you and some that are a little odd. Kenny, the owner of this space in the hippie neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru, calls it a home with no categories.
Books have categories, and so do people. Yet Kenny begs to differ. People unaccustomed to the everyday Singaporean, may find BooksActually as a “stand-offish” space difficult to navigate in. However, readers and customers are not labelled by their status or choice of books. In Kenny’s words, beneath these perceptions of the space run genuine human connections built over the years – even when BooksActually was not a physical store but a stall at bookfairs.
Take a tour around the store and you may realise the sheer number of titles that sound unfamiliar. As aforementioned, Kenny and his team try to bring in books of a wide range, simply to cater to as many readers as possible. Why not focus on mainly bestsellers? The answer is simple – it is his belief that bookkeepers are not arbiters of what readers should read. It is their freedom to choose and as booksellers, they provide the range as far as they can. After all, every book can be a good book – to each its own.
The placement of certain books may give you a little insight into Kenny’s cheeky personality. Deliberate placement of books with contrasting content is a way that he employs to push the narrative of how Singaporeans could be more accepting of competing truths.
We don’t have to agree, but we can learn and expand our horizons.
With regards to competition, Kenny loves it. Jokingly mentioning how he hopes Amazon gives every Singaporean a free Kindle, he talks about the power of influence. He believes that when book companies provide accessible devices and platforms for reading, people read more. Every once a person sees someone reading, he or she is more inclined to start reading. This influence can then grow into a greater love for reading among the local community.
Not bringing in many bestsellers, owning a bookstore in this hipster neighbourhood – Kenny is indeed going against the flow, but in all the right ways.