The last proper s/pores issue was uploaded in July 2015 – a special issue on Malay culture and society. In some ways, this issue on bookshops is a continuation from this special issue as writers Fadli Fawzi and Faris Joraimi wanted to further explore the topic of Malay literature and ideas, which resulted in their first two articles here: an interview with Ibrahim Tahir, the owner of Wardah bookshop at Kampung Glam and developing from that piece, an essay exploring the intellectual legacy of Kampung Glam.
True to our name, s/pores issues are rather incidental and ‘happen’ along the way much like pollination. The idea of putting together an issue on bookshops as sites of knowledge and nodes for new ideas to spread and disperse began to take shape when we interviewed Mr Yeo San Chai, the boss of the iconic Xinhua bookshop at Bras Basah Complex at the end of 2015. It took a while for the interview to be transcribed, edited and translated into English, but it was worth the wait.
To supplement the story of Chinese bookshops in contemporary times, we invited Ms Tan Waln Ching of City Book Room to pen her journey from being a Chinese Studies undergrad from Malaysia to becoming a young bookshop owner. The counterpoint is an interview with Kenny Leck of the largely English medium bookshop, BooksActually, conducted by Yogesh Tulsi.
In this age of Amazon and Book Depository, browsing physically in a bricks and mortar bookshop for some people could be a rarity. But for some of us, a bookshop is more than just a place to ‘buy and go’ – that would not be any different from online shopping. It is the act of browsing, coming across books you didn’t know exist and letting your mind wonder and possibly making the most mundane of connections between authors and titles that is so pleasurable. At the risk of paraphrasing too much from Walter Benjamin, the bookshop browser, much like the flaneur of 19th Century France, could very well meet his or her demise with the triumph of consumer capitalism in the form of the online shopping.
We hope not. Bookshops continue to be relevant and serve as networks for people to gather and exchange ideas, gossip and the ephemeral. For many years, bookshops like Xinhua were a nexus for Chinese intellectuals to meet and mingle on weekends. Likewise, BooksActually is doing the same for the SingLit crowd. Before the advent of mobile phones and other social media apps, bookshops would be places you pre-arranged to meet friends or if you know the shop people well enough, drop-off points for exchange of books, CDs and video tapes. One can read such accounts and recollections in a recent book put out by the Chou Sing Chu (founder of Popular Bookshop) Foundation, Passage of Time: Singapore Bookstore Stories 1881 – 2016.
Someone reminded us that this year is the 10th anniversary of s/pores. We hope more reading and browsing will carry on as we continue to let our ideas disseminate and meander, meeting other likeminded individuals to work with and being critical about our readings and sense-making. To reiterate from the first issue: s/pores is an interplay of the short form, the lower case, the plural, the backslash, the informal, the non-elite, the multiple, the oblique. Pronounced ‘spores’, our title also denotes the dispersal of seeds of ideas, some of which should fall on fertile ground. s/pores is therefore simultaneously a declaration of authorial positioning as it is a statement of our hopes for a more variegated Singapore.