City Book Room: For a New Generation of Literary Talent (Part 2)
By Quek See Ling
A Steady Stream of Chinese Publications
As of July 2017, City Book Room has published six Chinese books and one English book: Yeng Pway Ngon’s out-of-print Trivialities About Me and Myself (July 2015); a collection of literary criticism, Reading Journey (April 2016); Divining Dreams in a Dream: Essays on the Daoist Master Zhuangzi by Lo Yuet Keung (January 2016); Zhou Can’s essay collection, Two Boxes: Me and My Home and Other Essays (June 2016); Li Qingsong’s short story collection Manuscripts (November 2016); Yeng Pway Ngon’s short story collection, The Non-existent Lover and Other Stories, translated by Yeng’s wife Goh Beng Choo (June 2017); and Liu Su’s essay collection The Edge of the Rose (July 2017). It also sells locally published Chinese and English books on literature and culture, picture books, and books on Southeast Asian research – primarily from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
City Book Room also frequently organises events. Since July 2015, it has organised nearly 50 events, including a themed series of five events, 18 launch events for books, four readings, 15 literary lectures, seven counselling talks and workshops, and two movie screenings. It is particularly keen on encouraging young literary talents to organise lectures. Two examples are the launch event of WhyNot – a magazine by TrendLit, which is formed by local youths – and the “SingLit Chinese Writers – A New Generation” series.
Staying in touch with the times, City Book Room has been active in social media, regularly updating their Facebook page with the top 10 bestselling books of the month, photos of book launches, events news or video clips, and new book recommendations. Additionally, Tan Waln Ching has also been adept at making full use of media opportunities to publicise the bookstore. For instance, she was interviewed on Mediacorp Channel 8, has publicised the “SingLit Chinese Writers – A New Generation” series of events on the UFM 100.3 radio station, and has also appeared on Capital FM95.8’s book recommendation programme, “Must Read”. Unlike the more conservative traditional bookstores, Tan doesn’t mind the publicity and is dedicated to promoting reading and her bookstore to the public.
Running a bookstore involves many mundane chores, and it can be difficult to go it alone. Tan works together with her husband Paul Kam. As the founder of City Box Design. Kam has been responsible for City Book Room’s promotional work, ranging from the design and decoration of the storefront to its branding, publicity planning, and photography. At the same time, Chng Ler Thian – a book collector and literary editor, with rich experience in the bookstore industry – helps to take care of many of the bookstore’s matters. Tan and Kam’s family members even come all the way from Malaysia to help from time to time.
A Bed for New Literary Talent
“I haven’t drawn a salary since the shop was set up,” Tan stated honestly at the BuySingLit news conference on 2 February 2017. She added that in the 1980s, the average print volume of each book was 2000 to 4000 copies, but this has diminished to between 500 and 800 copies today. Along with high rent, both publishers and bookstores face immense challenges. However, it truly moved Tan to see different members of the book industry, representing all four official languages, gathered together for at the press conference in her small bookstore.
With the support of the National Arts Council and the National Book Development Council of Singapore, City Book Room participated in the first BuySingLit campaign. Held from 24 to 26 February 2017, City Book Room organised a series of five events featuring literary youths, encompassing topics like fiction, poetry, playwriting, and the future of Singaporean literature. On the opening day, young indie singers were invited to perform, various craft products were on sale, artists drew portraits of the writers who spoke, and the entire event was broadcasted live online. At the same time, City Book Room also stepped out of the rigid confines of a physical bookstore and set up a pop-up store during the 2017 Read! Fest organised by the National Library Board, doing its part to encourage the exchange of books in the four official languages of Singapore.
The Nordic countries of Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland took four of the top five spots. As many know, the Nordic countries have some of the highest reading rates in the world. Perhaps it may be said that reading cultivates wisdom, and this wisdom is the wellspring that informs all aspects of life, bringing happiness to each day. “I hope that City Book Room can inspire creative endeavours, promote care for society, and expand horizons, serving as a cultural space where many interesting possibilities intersect.” This is Tan’s wish, one that is hopefully shared by readers as well. I am thankful that this bookstore exists to ignite fires of inspiration in this city, radiating warmth.
*Special thanks to City Book Room for providing the images.
(Translated by Daryl Li)
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