Friday, February 17, 2006

Skoob is Books Drawkcab

Wonder how many of you actually know that we have a branch of the best secondhand bookshop in London?

(And yes, I have checked out the parent store, Skoob in Russell Square - how could I not?)

Skoob Malaysia has gone through a variety of incarnations. When I first came across it in the early 90's it was sharing half a shop-lot with a dobi shop. (That's a laundry - notice how I am now carefully translating terminology! Let's let shop-lot slip past and hope Walker doesn't notice!)

It later moved to slightly larger premises just up the road in Jalan Telawi 3. The first time I wandered in there, I had a surreal experience. Now bear in mind that this was well before the days of the big bookshops, when the best that could be found in Bangsar was a rack of Jackie Collins and Jeffrey Archer in Guardian pharmacy between the headache pills and the face creams. For some reason, I had a craving for a copy of Boswell's Life of Johnson.

I asked the woman behind the counter, expecting her to say something along the lines of "Huh?".

Cindy (for 'twas she) didn't skip a beat. Without looking at the shelves, without consulting any data base or list, she calmly asked "Would that be the 1923 Everyman edition in two volumns or the Heath&Co 1929 edition?" I nearly died of shock on the spot! We checked the shelves and both were there. An oasis in the dessert.

An oasis too of intelligent conversation as proprietor Thor (no relation to the thunder-god, unfortunately) playwright, actor, theatre-director, critic, lecturer, and his musician wife, Cindy, are book-loving kindred spirits.

I loved the shop for it's sheer plenty. Shelves were filled to capacity. There was a terrific range of novels, poetry, literary biographies, and of course the philosophy, religion and the occult in which the bookshop specialises. Books were stacked on the floor, filled even more boxes in the backroom, recent deliveries from the mother-ship in London.

Loved too the way that it drew eccentric characters to it. One rainy afternoon, I was browsing in the shelves of my favourite second-hand bookshop when an elderly, dhoti-clad gentleman burst in from the street, angrily brandishing a copy of Middlemarch at Thor who had apparently recommended the novel as the kind of improving read this gentleman said he was after. (He'd rejected a James Clavell novel the week before because the "language was not rich enough"!)

“Why does she call herself George?" he wailed "I don’t read books by women writers.”

I also laughed at Thor's story about customers coming in to buy antiquarian books by the yard to show the world how well read they were.

When rentals in Bangsar started to go through the roof, Thor moved a couple of miles closer to the city centre to a spacious property in Brickfields, behind the YMCA and next to a rather good Indian shop selling thosai. (Love Danny Lim's moody picture of Alvin Wong outside SKOOB in its Brickfields incarnation.).

More recently, it's moved again to Old Town, P.J. (Lot 122 & 123 Menara Mutiara Majestic, Jalan Othman to be precise), and takes a little more tracking down.

It's a book-lovers haven still (and a lot of books are much cheaper these days) and thanks to Cindy's artistic touch (flowers, lights, teak benches, cushions), the ambience is as squidgy as you could desire. Thor will even make you a cup of tea to sip while you browse. (Tell him Sharon said so.)

As I write this it strikes me that I badly need to make a pilgrimage to Skoob to fill some gaps in my collection, especially now that I have bookshelf space. (But for how long at this rate?? *sigh*).

Photo from The Sun

16 comments:

Kak Teh said...

I believe skoob was started by Ike Ong, right? He is still in London and the last time I met up with him he is still into theatre and productions etc.

bibliobibuli said...

right kak teh, and another example of "malaysia boleh"

9:55 AM

Leon Wing said...

I had the same kind of experience way back in the Brickfield days. I was looking for books by Nicholson Baker. Within 5 minutes Cindy whipped out a few copies not available in other bookshops then (still not available now, I think). She was amazing; you asked for any author, and she could tell your the titles Skoob was having - immediately, without having to search for them or look through any list.

By the way Cindy is Thor's wife.

fihmi said...

the additional shelf space was clearly explained by her trip to IKEA yesterday by the way.

simon said...

according to my good friend, he says his dad brought SKOOB to Malaysia from London. i dunno if its true, but the ownership has prolly changed hands a dozen times to its current owner.

the last time i went there it was still in brickfields, i bought two books - "Curtain" by Dame Agathe (a very old copy) and a book on truffles which was a birthday present for me wife...

sure brings back memories...

kate said...

hi sharon, the guy in the moody picture by Danny Lim is Alvin Wong :P

lil ms d said...

since they moved to pj, have not been to skoob at all. i really should go soon.

bibliobibuli said...

leon - aiyoh, another shop where you're spending too much money

fihmi - nice guess but wrong! i actually bought a new computer desk and work table and a fancy swivel chair and am so happy with all of them. ... it was great to see you and to share stories about those days and catch up on gossip ... thanks for passing on my e-mail to your former classmates

simon - skoob here has always been Thor's baby to my knowledge ...

kate - thanks for putting me right .. i'll correct the entry

ms d - we could go on a pilgrimage together

Anonymous said...

When Skoob was in Bangsar many years ago, I visited. It was great, I just wandered around reading the titles and generally taking in the atmosphere. It was huge (everything is when you're that small) and musty and full of books. I remember the proprietor made a nasty comment about my mental state at that time. He didn't think I was listening or could understand him. So I never went back.

Anonymous said...

Drawkcab -- a cab drawn by rocks ? now there's an interesting image.

Anonymous said...

Wow nice new stuff.. my writing table is older than I am.. and that's saying something :)

I think KT is right.. Ike Ong was in the first ever Skoob in Bangsar.

bibliobibuli said...

anon - drawkcab - no-one seems to ahve got the joke .... slow lot you are ...

anon - yes, you may well be right about ike being there at the beginning ... i hadn't visited the shop then

Anonymous said...

Yes heard about it from the papers and decided to check it out. I know I wandered in there for hours. I know he said something I didn't catch, and then he said it again. This time I realized he was saying something so I started paying attention. That was when he muttered to the lady next to him on the counter something about the mental state of someone who spends hours in a bookshop without buying anything.

piggy said...

is it really a branch of the one in England or are they just using the name? Not implying that they're rip-offs as it could also be a coincidence by name.

bibliobibuli said...

Piggy, both were set up by Ike Ong. Later the Malaysian branch was bought over by Thor Kah Hong.

piggy said...

wow thanks for responding! I must say I didn't even notice that this blog entry was made in 2006 when I read it and posted the comment.
So is the store still in PJ Old Town? Gotta get my bony butt there!