Going by the Book

Published on 13 October 2015

Meet three little bookstores valiantly doing their bit to serve
the printed word.

TEXT BY DAPHNE ONG 

The 2011 demise of Borders in Singapore left book lovers here at a loss for words. While stores like Kinokuniya and MPH remain in business, it would seem that bookshop choices have clearly shrunk.

But look a little closer and you’ll find there has been a new breed of stores quietly appeasing perturbed book fans. In the past decade, small independent bookshops have sprung up across the island, many filling niches in the market and boasting their own unique character, sharing a deep love for the printed word. Here are some of our favourites.

LIT CHIC: BooksActually

9 Yong Siak Street
www.booksactually.com

Nestled in the heart of hipster haven Tiong Bahru, the first thing that greets you when you enter BooksActually is the extensive and unusual range of books on display. Whatever wall space not covered with books is plastered with vintage toys, posters and bric-a-brac.

Once a humble operation by bibliophiles Kenny Leck and Karen Wai, BooksActually has become an institution in the local literature scene. Book connoisseurs and newbies alike make the pilgrimage to this quirky and sunny store.

“We love books,” says Leck. “We wanted to sell books major bookstores don’t often display. The beauty of its small size allows us to feature the books we want to feature. Plus, customers don’t have to spend so much time locating a book compared to a big bookstore.”

Ever the entrepreneur, Leck turned a simple hand-typed page into an in-house line of stationery called Birds & Co., which is sold in the store alongside the extensive collection of hand-picked titles.

Perhaps what BooksActually is best loved for is its active support for the local literary community. Math Paper Press is BooksActually’s own publishing arm focused on developing local literary voices. It has published more than 90 titles and prints since it started in 2011.

The bookshop also hosts numerous events throughout the year, including readings, book launches and exhibitions. Its independent and supportive spirit continues to endear it to book lovers.

KID’S PLAY: Woods in the Books

3 Yong Siak Street
www.woodsinthebooks.sg

Also nestled in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood is Singapore’s only independent children’s bookstore, Woods in the Books. A simple yet whimsical storefront façade greets you, but step through the threshold and you’ll find yourself amidst a cheerful riot of colours. Low shelves keep the neat stacks of books within easy reach of their key clientele, while an array of toys and pictures hold court from their perches on tables, shelves and wall hangings.

Woods in the Books specialises in picture books for readers of all ages. The owners, artist Mike Foo and his partner Shannon Ong, personally select every title in their collection of classic and new picture books, comics and graphic novels.

“We both love and enjoy reading picture books,” says Ong. “A bookshop is a channel for us to let more people know about the goodness of picture books from our handpicked selection.”

Children are not the only ones who enjoy the books here. Adults will  be delighted by the graphic novels and nostalgic titles from their youth featuring comic heroes like Tin Tin, the Peanuts gang and kampung icon Lat. Singapore talent is also showcased in a section dedicated to homegrown graphic novels and children’s picture books.

Those who appreciate the intricacy of pop-art books will get a buzz from the selection sold here. Titles such as The Little Prince and The Wizard of Oz never fail to impress with their gorgeous artistry. In addition to books, drawings, paintings, prints and plush toys made by Foo are also for sale here. Workshops and events are often held in the shop where children can read together and get hands-on with art.

Fans of Woods in the Books may want to check out their new branch Books Ahoy! Located at Forum The Shopping Mall, this junior book paradise aims to provide a wide reading selection to children from infant to 12 years old.

DESIGN HOUSE: Basheer Graphic Books

Bras Basah Complex, #04-19
www.basheergraphic.com

A favourite with design fans, Basheer Graphic Books is packed from floor to ceiling with books and magazines on just about any design topic. Whether it’s architecture, interior design, landscape design, graphic design, animation, product design, fashion design, art & craft, typography or photography, you can be sure of finding a related publication here.

The bookshop, well situated in the art-and-print mecca that is Bras Basah Complex, often draws those who throng the neighbouring art shops in search of art supplies. Often, they end up spending a generous amount of time browsing the shelves of Basheer Graphic Books. Store owner Basheer started operations 30 years ago, tirelessly plying design tomes to customers by hand. His passion for design-related books and magazines, coupled with his knowledge of the subject matter, has endeared him to many art and design professionals.

It is to his credit that in this digital age, designers still flock to Basheer’s shop to check out the latest offerings. The store’s friendly and knowledgeable staff are also happy to recommend titles to newcomers. In fact, if you can’t find a particular title, just leave your name and contact details with the staff. You’ll hear from them when the publication arrives.

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