Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Books Without Breaking the Bank

Didn't have time yesterday to comment on Elizabeth Tai's very timely and useful piece The Savvy Bookworm about how book addicts can get a steady supply of books without breaking the bank, particularly as most people here find books expensive.

The first solution Elizabeth comes up with is renting.

I wonder - are book rental stores a typically Malaysian solution to the problem of few libraries and high book prices?

Elizabeth interviews Alex (left) and Susan Ooi who run Reader's Corner at Subang Parade who started the business out of a personal passion for reading:
Alex said that business is tough simply because there aren’t many avid readers out there. “You’re lucky if you survive in this business,” he said. Said Susan: “In the past, after exams are over, our store would be filled with customers. Now, there isn’t that much fanfare. Before, many kids used to spend money to rent books. Now kids use their allowance to go shopping, watch movies in the cinemas; the computer and the Internet don’t help, either. This has influenced kids to give up reading. There doesn’t seem to be many avid readers from the younger generation now.”
Then there's swapping books. Elizabeth interviews a group of bookcrossers (right) who meet monthly to exchange books.
The Malaysian chapter was created in Dec 19, 2003, by a then 16-year-old Andy Lim. There are now 207 members but only a few meet once a month to swap books while others mail books to one another.
As the article points out, the real aim of bookcrossing is supposed to be that you release books "into the wild" for others to find and enjoy, and the progress of the book is tracked across the internet. But it doesn't really work in Malaysia (as I know from personal experience!) where you never seem to hear of your books again. (Although I've since discovered that books can be crossed at Silverfish with more success and have picked up one or two from the "freebie" shelf myself.) You can contact the group via their yahoo group.

Another solution is looking out for discounts and special offers. Ah, I also can't rest Kinokuniya's Gems of the Month and snipping discount vouchers from the papers.

Yours truly (left, on a bad hair day) burbles on about the joy of warehouse sales (as I have many times on this blog!).

The final solution - and the one that would be most obvious to readers in the West - is to borrow books from libraries. Here there are not enough branch libraries and those that do exist tend to close too early for folks to make use of their services. (Librarians are civil servants in Malaysia and work government hours.)

The article reports how Anne Tham (right) and husband Tham Ah Meng have set up a private library to complement their work at Ace Ed–Venture at USJ9's Business Centre in Subang Jaya where they not only teach English and communication skills but also develop the love of reading in children. They spend RM20,000 a year on books for the kids.

Close to my own heart (because I've been involved in listing purchases of latest stuff for it) is the British Council Library.

So yes, it's possible to be an enthusiastic reader in Malaysia without breaking the bank, and thanks Elizabeth for spreading the word.


lil ms d said...

i cannot rent! i must OWN the books!

but it's great to know that we have many many book lovers. here's to more book sales, warehouse bargains etc!

bibliobibuli said...

me also ms d. i end up usually keeping the books i rent.

Michael said...

My gripe with book rentals and libraries is that they carry mostly decade-old museum pieces. Its fine if you read Asimov or Dr Suess. For peeps like me who read non-fiction where the subject matter has a 1-2 year lifespan, I have no choice but to buy.

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, I used to borrow M&B books for about 50sen a pop from Indian sidewalk vendors. Our public libraries' book selection is very pathetic and out-dated. But MPSJ has their own library which boasts of contemporary fiction.

Anonymous said...

Books for _kids_ ? hey wnay about books for adults ? that's just discrimination LOL :) I can't rent either :P

The solution ? I'm not sure there is one. You can't force a people to do something. If you have tax breaks for buying books, people will just buy books for the tax breaks and not read them. If you pay them to read and review they will stop as soon as you do.

You can bring a horse to a pond, but you can't make him drink. :)

Anonymous said...

"are book rental stores a typically Malaysian solution to the problem of few libraries and high book prices?"

I don't think so. Surely there are book rental places in other countries ? I know there are software rental services in the US (sorry to bring up that country but you know, they're the only ones that shout and wave it about, so I'd not know if there are any anywhere else in the world :P) What would make a good post is why the US and UK citizens are still feuding after so many centuries :)

bibliobibuli said...

michael - yes, i guess that's true
lydia - who runs the mpsj library if it isn't a public library? confused ...
anon - it's a love-hate relationship in many ways ... v. complex. i'm sure books have been written.

Alex Tang said...

I agree with lil ms d, I cannot rent. I must have my own copy :)

Hi lydia, then MPSJ must be the only municipal library in the country that have a contemporary section that has contemporary books.

Anonymous, you can get the horse to drink by giving salt. :)
I agree with you that rental are not the answer. You cannot get good books at rentals. And there are so few rentals for books. Rentals for manga (Japanese comics) are common though.

Elizabeth Tai wrote an excellent article. But after reading it, I sigh, shook my head, boot up my computer and lock onto amazon.com

Ann Jebaratnam said...

SIGH... I am a book monster. I also need to OWN the books! I would freak out if my precious copy of The Chronicles of Narnia came back looking ratty and torn... or even if the spine is cracked. :-)

bibliobibuli said...

ann - book monster! love that! yes, i need toi own the books i read. can't even borrow from a library. but i'm okay with my books looking tatty - though some editions are very special to me.

alex - there have been a couple of good book rental places with quality fiction, but they tend not to last long ...

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, as Alex mentioned, MPSJ library is run by the municipal council. It is not a public library as in state-run. Check out this library listing :


You'll see that MPSJ comes under Other Libraries. Membership is not free though it is open to the public. You have to pay something like RM20-30 (can't remember) per year if you want to borrow books. Tried to log on to their website, but couldn't access the page. Says something about their being a Hpermedia library, yeah?

Chet said...

"there have been a couple of good book rental places with quality fiction, but they tend not to last long ... "

Yes, the one in TTDI above the coffee shop had good books - brand new many of them - but didn't last long, at most 2 years from the time I first discovered it. I had signed up for the basic subs of RM25/- for a book a month.

Kari said...

These are a lot of the same issues happening here in Ecaudor. There are a few libraries with books in English (of course things are different here since I am looking for English books in a Spanish-speaking culture, but anyways there are few libraries in Spanish too, and very little fiction, plus you have to read the book there - you can NOT take it home... how depressing to sit in a yellow-walled, grimy government room reading a novel or short story). You have to pay a membership fee to use the English libraries, and they are not updated at all. I end up buying my books at second-hand stores or other stores in the mall where the poor guy who orders the books has NO idea of what is going on in the literary world. I hate to say it, but for me the best thing about Ecuador taking on the dollar and throwing out the sucre has been that prices have been unified a bit in terms of books. Now a new book only costs a few dollars more than the original bought in the US or UK, instead of being three or four times the price.
My biggest problem, perhaps, is being married to a local (sorry, hon) who believes that spending money on books is a WASTE. So sad... (I am actually in a happy marriage, this seems to be an isolated point of contention, haha, and granted, I suppose I am a bit obsessed at times...)

Agnes Tan said...

I must own books that I set my sight on. Last month alone my other half (home auditor) announced that my book bills ran highest in this year. Nope I would not rent coz most of them aren't attractive to me. Niko Niko Doh at Jusco sometimes carry second hand books (yes, I collect Japanese books for browsing pleasure). Has anyone forgotten another readers heaven-Amcorp Mall? Rent, second hand, past issues... go and grab there, no regrets. In Singapore there are rental bookstores that carries up to date books (especially non fiction and romance), so why is it not happening here?

Ahem, Cikgu Sharon - I have not deliver my work for your class. Can I pass it to you? ;-)

Agnes Tan
(British Council Creative Writing Class)