As of now, I am at home waiting for the delivery of my books from Kinokuniya, wrapped in my quilt blanket and listening to trashy pop singers who rhyme with Selena Gomez and Nikki Minaj.
Such wonderful self-confession has now compelled me to write about purchasing/borrowing books. In Singapore.
(And no, listening to trashy pop music has no bearing on this post. Thus, there was a noticeable absence of transitional words or a comma to indicate any correlation).
As a Literature major, you always get asked the same questions:
- So what are you going to after you graduate? Teach?
- Got any good books to recommend to me?
- Where do you get your books from?
People often do not have the courtesy to separate teaching from my future after I graduate. Most Literature majors are known for their acerbic wit. Being a polite and docile person, hardly anyone asking me this has felt the brunt of my stunning wit.
As for the second question, my answers always vary. I may love Austen and Shakespeare but I don’t recommend it to any Tom, Dick or Harry. Perhaps if I’m feeling motivated enough, I may be compelled to do a post on “Books You Should Read”.
Alright, no one actually asks me that last question but I’m pretty sure they’re thinking it in their head and are too polite to verbalise it.
I get my books from a variety of places. And being a cheapskate, I always look to the local libraries. So it’s no surprise that typing “nlb” into my URL bar automatically fills it with http://catalogue.nlb.gov.sg/. It’s not the most amazing site in the world. In fact, it’s pretty one-dimensional. So why not just walk to the nearest local library to borrow books?
Long gone are the days when I actually take two hours to browse for books. It’s too time-consuming and if you are like me, you would already have a list of books that you would be interested in reading. Going online to the NLB catalogue helps me plan where I should get my books. For example, if Book A is available (and NOT ON LOAN) in A and B while Book B is available at only B. It would thus make sense to travel to B instead of A and B. And you would have the satisfaction of having borrowed a book that you have been eyeing for a long time.
Or if that book is in the Repository Used Book Collection (For example Stephanie Barron’s Jane and The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor), you can always reserve the book online for S$1.50. It’s not a token price to pay and you can always pick it up at a convenient place.
Some of my friends enjoy possessing a paperback, which is fine and dandy. I have nothing against owning paperbacks. In fact, I am currently in possession of a fine enough library of books to last me a long while. But really, when buying books, I always ask myself two questions:
- Am I going to read this book 10 times?
- Ten years from now, will I still read this book?
The second question may be a tad difficult to answer. How would you know if you’re going to read this when you’re middle-aged? You should always read a book you read five years or ten years ago. Your emotional/intellectual response may surprise you. And gratify your ailing heart when you’re fifty.
While you may harbour quixotic notions of owning a room with mahogany bookshelves and well-stocked with books, all that bourgeois wastefulness is not environmentally-friendly (says the person who collects wrapping paper) and may be slightly pretentious. Dude/Gal, who are you kidding. Unless it’s well-thumbed, you can’t say that you’ve actually read it.
On the same tangent, I am also rather fond of second-hand books. I sometimes scour for books at the NLB book sales which the National Library holds about twice a year. You can’t get terribly wonderful books sometimes but if you look hard enough, they may be lurking somewhere.
Alternatively, I also visit SG Book Exchange. Most of the people selling books there are of population “bourgeois wastefulness”. It is true that some of them have only read the book once, left it in their storeroom for awhile and decide to sell it online later. Some of them sell their books very cheaply and I have gotten many books off there at wonderful prices in equally wonderful condition.
So what about brand new books?
Kinokuniya’s Bookweb Singapore is also on my speed dial (online). Many people always complain that they sell their books at exorbitant prices. That may be true if you are looking for something like Larsson’s “The Girl Who..” or other mainstream novels which you can easily purchase at Popular Singapore or Times Bookstore. Another friend has told me that I’m not longer supporting bricks and mortar bookstores. But if there is a certain book that you would really like to read but is not mainstream enough, Kinokuniya’s Bookweb Singapore site is a wonderful catalogue and it tells you how soon it will take to arrive. Also, they will tell you when they will arrive at your place by sending you an e-mail in advance.
I have also recently discovered the NOQ Online Store Asia which sells its books at amazingly cheap prices. The only catch is that you have to pay a S$20 membership price to enjoy these discounts. I haven’t signed up for one yet but it may be tempting for book-buyers.
However, if you have friends in the UK, books there are even cheaper. Especially on Amazon.co.uk. The prices there are about a third to three-quarters the price you would get in Singapore. I can now get my books at those “amaz”-ing prices (yes, I have already self-examined myself thoroughly). By serendipity, I have many friends studying in the UK and do not mind carting books back to Singapore for me. <cue evil laughter>.
These are just an exhaustive list of options I have when it comes to book-buying/borrowing. And you can imagine that I keep a lot of tabs open when I’m sourcing for books.
For the curious readers, I am still wrapped in my quilt blanket and going to cuddle with a book on my bed to wait for the delivery man.
P.S. Unless you have an iPhone, the mobile library website is highly ineffective.