Why Do People Visit Bookstores These Days?

A friend and I recently went into a debate about what makes a bookstore tick these days.

Both of us like to read, and she had the good luck of having worked in Kinokuniya before, which happens to be the last big bookstore chain in Singapore that still offers a huge collection.

Kinokuniya’s main store used to be my favourite haunt in town, and I could lose myself in it for hours. I never left it empty-handed, and I could count on it for fresh reads and serendipitous finds every time I was there. Then some time last year, it moved one level up in the same building to a smaller space due to “space restructuring” by the landlord.

My experience there has never been the same again.

Because of the smaller space, little room has been left for proper curation of the books. The shelves are packed more tightly together, making browsing a claustrophobic experience. Books displayed horizontally on tables are stacked higher, making browsing even more difficult for short folks like me. Navigation through the bookstore has also become challenging, because it no longer has the luxury to leave a clear path like the old store that leads from the entrance and which, if followed faithfully, would bring one to most parts of the bookstore. In the “old” days, this path was generously lined with shelves of new and interesting reads that one would “discover” en route to the desired section. Someone once described the path to me as a “time and money sink”, because he always ended up spending most of his “Kinokuniya time” on it, as well as most of his money on books that lined it.

It has been a long while since I visited the main store, because I no longer liked the browsing experience. Online stores, ebooks and the modern library have also made it so much easier for me to access new books and fill my reading appetite. When I lamented about this “loss” to my friend, and how I wished Kinokuniya could better curate its books like what some of the more successful independent bookstores are doing, I received a short lecture on the differences between a big bookstore like Kinokuniya and the smaller independent bookstores, and that it was almost impossible to curate like the small stores while maintaining a large collection in the midst of a space crunch.

Which leads me to the question of why people still visit bookstores today. After all, won’t it be easier to buy books online with just a few clicks and get instant “you may also like these” recommendations?

Before I’m misunderstood for promoting online bookstores and downplaying the brick and mortar ones, I must set the record straight by declaring that I love brick and mortar stores. Nothing can replace the smell of thousands of new books, the way seeing shelves of unread tomes increases my heart rate, and the sudden rush of euphoria from discovering a book that surprises me. I want bookstores like Kinokuniya to do well, and this is precisely why I’m worried. If it has already lost me as a customer in the last few months, how many more did it and will it lose?

I have friends who tell me they visit bookstores to browse. Some make it into a family outing, so their kids have a nice environment to spend an afternoon in. Others just pop into the store to get hold of a specific title they have in mind, and do not have the patience to wait even a few days for delivery. 

My sense is that the environment created by the bookstore has become even more important in the face of competition from its digital rivals, be it the events that give it a lively buzz or the displays that make people part with their money. While Kinokuniya should continue to carry enough volumes of popular titles to cater to the mass market (where most of its revenue comes from as I was told), it should also make a conscious effort to set aside well-designed spaces for the curation of alternative titles that might continue to attract existing customers and draw in new ones.

But of course, I know Kinokuniya has to continue to exist in the first place and be given a chance to evolve. I just received a mailer that says the bookstore is having a storewide 20% discount for members this weekend.

I think I’ll go book-shopping in town this weekend.

Meantime, what keeps you going back to the brick and mortar bookstores? 

Truly Madly Guilty [A Review]

Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty

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   [Image courtesy of bookdepository.com]

 

This book totally exhausted me.

The storytelling was laborious, the characters unlikable, and the pace was painfully slow for me. Moriarty took slightly over half the book to finally reveal what happened at the barbecue. Well, I suppose one could argue that it’s to set the context and build up the suspense, but I can only say it could have been done better. Plus, I was disappointed that the “mysteries” behind the barbecue event were too easily solved – I had guessed them right after the writer finally revealed what had happened in the third quarter section of the book. I was hoping there was an unexpected twist at the end that would make me feel better about it. 

This is also one of those few times that I’m not able to find a character that I like (or hate). Everybody in there seemed to have his or her burdens, problems and ghosts. Even the little kids had their own burdens and secrets. No matter that the story ended well (I hope this is not a spoiler for you). And never mind that the author might have been trying to mirror modern lives today. Perhaps she was trying too hard to give us hope while making sure the characters still looked real enough. (Okay, maybe the message about the importance of learning first aid was useful.)

I think I need a break from “reality” and a dive back into fantasy books.

VERDICT: Moriarty had written better books before, and if you happen to be going through a period with time and patience in low supply, avoid this one at all costs.

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from bookdepository.com:

Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you’d think. For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again. But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them. Which is how it all spirals out of control…

Fish In A Tree [A Review]

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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   [Image courtesy of bookdepository.com]

First, I’ve decided to stop giving my reviews fanciful titles and just use the book titles instead, because I realized 1) folks out there may not know immediately which book the review is for; and 2) my review won’t come up as easily if someones does a search for reviews on a certain title. Oh well, so much for creativity.

Anyway, I was in two minds about this book, although I was hooked from the first chapter. My heart went out to Ally from the first chapter, and I so wanted her to succeed. Each chapter is like a snapshot of an event in school for Ally (with more than one event in a day sometimes, and so a day stretches across chapters), and many of them spoke to me with a different lesson each time I finished one. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that Hunt took longer than necessary to tell the story, and I would have liked her to flesh out Mr Daniels’s character a little bit more. In fact, I would have liked Hunt to also talk more about Albert, Keisha and Shay. But then, I’ve always liked to read books written from the perspective of children, so maybe that’s why I was craving for more from the other children too.

VERDICT: This is a short book, and might appeal to folks who would like to know a little bit about dyslexia, as well as folks who can relate to living or interacting with children who have dyslexia. But I thought it might also be a relevant read for teachers, because it’s a reminder that sometimes, kids who are seen to be misbehaving, may just be calling out for help.

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from bookdepository.com:

Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid. Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her and to everyone than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

It Gets Better [A Review]

The Throne of Glass Series, Books 1 – 4, by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows

  sarah-j-maas-throne-of-glass sarah-j-maas-crown-of-midnight

 sarah-j-maas-heir-of-fire sarah-j-maas-queen-of-shadows

   [Image courtesy of bookdepository.com]

There are series which hook readers with the first book and disappoint with the subsequent ones. And then there are those that don’t impress with the first book but get better with each new one and leave readers glad that they had stayed. The Throne of Glass series probably belongs to the latter category, barring how Sarah J. Maas intends to end the series eventually.

I read about the plans for this fantasy series to be adapted into a TV series and decided to give it a try, despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of young adult fantasy books, and especially with so many of them describing dystopian worlds that make reading them a dread. (I guess you can say that Brandon Sanderson has changed young adult fantasy for me.)

I wasn’t impressed by the first book. The characters were shallow, some of the logic didn’t make sense, and the language was flippant at times. I didn’t even understand how Chaol, the Captain of the Royal Guard, had never killed anyone before (and was thus emotionally affected when he killed someone in order to save the protagonist, Celaena). What made me continue with the second book was the mystery surrounding Celaena’s heritage, the disappearance of magic, and the evil King’s secret plans.

I’m glad I decided to continue with the series though, because the characters and plot seem to grow and mature with each book. By the time I was done with the third book, I had almost forgotten that this was meant to be a young adult series. Almost. Because Maas does a pretty good job of reminding me with her choice of words in her characters’ dialogue and thoughts at times. (Try counting the number of times “shit” appears in the bad situations her characters land themselves in.)

The main grouse I have is that I realized the series didn’t end with the fourth book until I was already more than halfway through the third. I had wanted to write this review after I had finished the entire series. The fifth book is out, but the sixth will take a while to come. I can only hope Maas will not keep readers waiting like what Patrick Rothfuss and George R. R. Martin have done. I don’t think she will, but I thought I’d better do this review first.

VERDICT: Don’t start the series if you’re someone who likes to have his/her fantasy series complete and ready for you to devour at break-neck speed. Otherwise, this might just grow on you. Oh, and if you’re a female who likes fantasies about female heroes who make many handsome and powerful males fall for them at the same time (or in the same story), you’ll love this too.

[I’ve not included the synopsis in this post because I’ve not been able to find one (sometimes also known as the BWC’s lazy excuse) that summarizes the first four books, but if you need one, please ask Google or check out the author’s website http://sarahjmaas.com/.]