Ah, ruffle the pages in a real bookstore, and you would immediately see why Amazon, may not be the best place to get books.
Talk to the shop assistant, and get him to recommend you his favourite books, rather than those recommended by an algorithm that gives you what others have bought, and you would immediately see why bookstores still exist today.
Bookstores aren’t just there to earn money. They are there as communities of knowledge, sharing wisdom on the best books.
But in Singapore, beyond the big Popular chain selling assessment books (to put more children to sleep, oops), it can be tough to find good bookstores.
Yes, I’m that nerd who travels around looking for bookstores.
And maybe you also spend weekends finding bookstores, pulling books out of the shelf, and spending hours reading.
But wait, do you really need to buy the book?
If you go to the National Library Board, you would find millions of books. Yes, even those that you don’t think they would ever have a copy of.
It might be worth doing a search, before you assume that they don’t have it.
And it’s worth borrowing, because if you look at the shelf with the tons of unread books (okay, not you, it’s me), you would probably be better saving your money.
Are you ready to fork out $20?
You might be surprised, but books mostly start at $20 in Singapore. It wasn’t till I moved to the U.K. that I realised that books were much cheaper there. It was primarily because they were printed there.
As Singapore is a relatively smaller market, there isn’t as much as a commercial case to bulk print, and then sell it. Unless it’s a bestseller.
Here are some of the best.
But before we go there, let me tell you where you shouldn’t go.
Littered with Books
I thought I had found the place. You know, the one of your dreams.
For one, there were two floors, with the stairs neatly hidden behind a shelf. Enter the second floor, and you feel like you’re in a magical place.
By all means, this looks like your cozy store. Whilst I was impressed with their curation of books, I was surprised at how curt their staff was.
When I sat on the floor to browse, the staff came to tell me that no browsing was allowed.
Wasn’t this a bookstore?
And you can’t browse?
Here’s where you should go instead.
|Bookstore||Where?||What’s great?||What’s bad?|
|Books Beyond Borders||Marymount||Books start at $10||You might have a limited selection, based on what people donate|
|Evernew Bookstore||Bugis||Books start at $5||You might have a limited selection, and face difficulties finding the book you want|
|Littered with Books||Maxwell||It’s looks Instagrammable!||The assistants aren’t that nice, and won’t let you browse|
|Popular Bookstore||Various places around the island||Greater variety of books||Prices are usually marked up, 20% more than the other bookstores, and you might expect to find yourself set back by $29 for a good tome|
|SKS Bookstore||Specialises in Christian books
Has a used books section that is heavily discounted at the back of the store
|Xi’An Bookstore||Kovan||Specialises in Christian books
20% discount for most books
|You will find more Chinese than English books|
|Zall Bookstore||Wheelock Place||Chinese books
|Prices are relatively milder at an average of $20 per book|
Try Carousell first
If you’re looking for a book, go first to Carousell. You would be surprised at what you can find there.
If the books are popular, you would probably find a copy of it there, which someone bought, read, and now wants to get rid of.
Popular, for the member discount of 10%
If you’re going to buy a book from Popular, you’re going to find yourself taking a higher price. At least 20%, from what I’ve noticed.
They do this so that they can maintain their monopoly over other smaller bookstores. And continue writing assessment books.
Nah. I’m kidding.
But if you look at the prices, they often start much higher than the other bookstores. I suspect they do that so that they can offset the cost of the member discounts.
Evernew Bookstore, for secondhand cheap books
Evernew Bookstore is so scrimpy that it doesn’t even have aircon. But it also means you have the best prices for books.
Its collection of self help, non fiction books is impressive.
Whilst there are some which it wraps up to prevent you from damaging them, most can be read.
It will just be a little tough to find your favourite book though and you need to spend some time to browse through the shelves.
You can even negotiate for a discount with the friendly assistant!
SKS Books for Christian books
SKS Books has one of the best collections of English books. Talk to the guy at the counter, and you would be blown away by his knowledge of Christian books.
What’s even more impressive is that they stock Singaporean authors (not me unfortunately, though you can find our books here).
Go to the back of the store, and you would find yourself slowly shifting in your mindset that Singapore doesn’t have writers.
There are quite a few you would find there. Edmund Chan, Robert Solomon, these are real titans of faith in Singapore.
But they also have second hand Christian books, that start at a bargain $5.
The only snag? They don’t open on Sundays, because they are at church.
Books Beyond Borders, for secondhand vintage books
Books Beyond Borders takes donations from people, and sells these books at a markup. They sell each book for $10, which is much cheaper than where you would find it elsewhere.
Having previously gone to their popup, I found that the selection was rather limited. They might have a bigger collection at their main outlet in Marymount, although it can be a bit of a trek.
They have popups around at Crane in Joo Chiat and Bugis too, although these collections are very small.
Xi’An Bookstore for Christian Chinese books
Xi’An, tucked away in tiny little Kovan, is one that has been sustained by ‘God’s grace’, according to the storekeeper.
If you look at their books, you would find them delightfully priced too. They have a 20% discount if you buy from them.
Zall Bookstore for Chinese books
Zall also has an impressive interior design, though the books are mostly Chinese.
What’s even better is that they have a cafe area, which ensures that you’re nicely fed.
Though I hope you don’t grow fat.
Come on, buy some books
Sure, there’s Netflix. But as Adam Atler argues in Irresistible, reading a book is much harder than watching a film.
You need time to absorb, process and understand what’s actually going on.
Hardship inoculation is the idea that struggling with a mental puzzle—trying to remember a phone number or deciding what to do on a long Sunday afternoon—inoculates you against future mental hardships just as vaccinations inoculate you against illness.
Reading a book, for example, is harder than watching the TV.
Adam Atler, in Irresistible
And that’s why we should continue to read.
Because it makes us smarter. More resilient. And much better people.