Passage of Time Events Series 1 – From the Bookstores
By Quek See Ling
On 30 April 2017, the first event in Chou Sing Chu Foundation’s Passage of Time Events Series was held at The Pod within the National Library Building. Titled “From the Bookstores: A Dialogue on the Past Present and Future”, the speakers were Linden Lin, publisher of Taiwan’s Linking Publishing Company and chairman of Shanghai Bookstore; Yoshii Shinobu, author of Tokyo’s Constant Booksellers; and Lim Jen Erh, one of the owners of Grassroots Book Room. Tan Li Yi, a lecturer of Chinese Media & Communication at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, was the emcee.
Chou Sing Chu Foundation’s Passage of Time: Singapore Bookstore Stories 1881-2016 was published in December 2016 amid much fanfare. To rally support for the 30 April 2017 event, Lianhe Zaobao published journalist Huang Juan’s “Interview with Yoshii Shinobu, Author of Tokyo’s Constant Booksellers: A Book Written with the Legs” on 17 April 2017. More than 150 people turned up, filling the venue to capacity. Amongst them were 17 owners of bookstores that were featured in the book. When these “book trade alumni” gathered for a group photo, many among the audience also seized the opportunity to snap away. It was a moving scene paying homage to these bookstore owners.
Subsequently, Passage of Time, which took almost four years to produce, was officially launched by Ms Sim Ann (Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth & Ministry of Trade and Industry) and Mr Chou Cheng Ngok (Chairman of Chou Sing Chu Foundation).
Bookstore: Cultivating Tolerance
During his presentation, themed “Why We Still Need Bookstores”, Lin expressed his gratitude for the assistance rendered to Taiwan by the local book trade during the difficult period of the 1950s. He also highlighted Select Books, the Southeast Asian books specialist, as one of his most respected bookstores. Further, he revealed that his archaeology-trained son was sceptical of this theme initially but Lin replied with a quote from Mercredi à la librairie (Sylvie Neeman and Olivier Tallec): “A bookstore is where emotions converge, where the seeds of personal growth are provided.”
Meanwhile, Yoshii Shinobu introduced several of Tokyo’s unique independent bookstores featured in Tokyo’s Constant Booksellers, like Shinjuku’s 40-plus-years-old Mosakusha which carries not bestsellers or coffee, but focuses on being the voice for single mothers and foreign immigrants. Shinobu opined that this type of bookstores is important in cultivating tolerance in a city, especially for multicultural and multiracial Singapore.
With his presentation themed “Bookstore. Lonely Island. Oasis”, Lim lamented that we are living in an era when many things are easily lost. The people’s fragmenting habits and attention made him and his partners feel that bookstores are like a lonely island. But realising their role as a community space for activities and interaction, he posited that every bookstore is an oasis and hoped that the surrounding desert could also be developed. Lim opined that many things can survive if we persevere.
The Passage of Time exhibition at the back of the venue also had its fair share of visitors. We hope that Passage of Time can reach the hands of more readers to inspire them to reflect on the meaning of bookstores through the stories within and, just as Mr Chou had expressed in his welcome speech, that this goodness be continued.
(Translated by Shawn Pang)
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