Sunday, June 21, 2009

Abby WONG ... On apologising to books

A former book merchandising manager at Kinokuniya Bookstores, Suria KLCC, ABBY WONG used to talk to books while displaying them on the shelves. But she is not crazy.

HAVE YOU EVER APOLOGISED TO A BOOK? I have, for not buying it and taking it home with me. I swear it seemed to me that the book winked back in a funny little way. It happens to me all the time whenever I am in a bookstore. As I sashay down the aisles, my eyes dart from one book to another, checking out their titles and pretty covers. The popular books will simply smile and wink when you check them out; the obscure ones scream, “You don’t know what you are missing.”

“Sorry, I can’t,” I reply apologetically to them—in a whisper, lest customers nearby think I am mad. I glide on, still looking for that one book that will keep me alive for another week or so.

Ferocious consumer of books that I am, the written word is my fodder, the smell of books is the scent that keeps me awake. But books are so expensive these days that my monthly allowance does not allow hasty purchases. Isn’t that true for you, too, dear reader?

But every time I walk into a bookstore, stacks of newly published titles warmly greet and cajole me with their shiny grins and lilting chirping, making them impossible to ignore.

The entrance is, naturally, where bookstores tend to display their latest titles, which makes this area the most “deafening”. Attractive and bright in colour, these new books tweet and cheep energetically, each attempting to outshine one another. It is rather vexing to have to ignore Charlaine Harris’s Dead and Gone, but my heart yearns for crafters of beautiful sentences and weavers of enchanting stories. Stride on!

The purring, barking, roaring, and quaking start even before I get to the children’s books section. From afar the animal characters can smell me, a sucker for picture books who will buy anything that makes my daughter laugh.

As she progresses from board books to the more expensive picture books, my hope of buying for each of us a book a week diminishes. And, as mothers do, I usually end up buying a book for her and leave the bookstore aching, full of unsatisfied longing myself.

All the brawling happening elsewhere in the store cannot smother the articulate voices of the storytellers, for they are voices of imposing elegance and style. They seduce me easily into the comfortable Literature nook, a section I am most fond of. I can spend hours browsing around this section, drooling over books that I have not read and feeling nostalgic about those I have.

Mo Yan’s Big Breasts and Wide Hips makes my knees go weak once again, as it conjures up images of Japanese soldiers storming a little village in China and killing unarmed villagers by the thousands. And for how long will Jeffrey Eugenides leave me flabbergasted with his tale of a hermaphrodite in Middlesex? For as long as I live. So resonant are these stories, they enable me to escape momentarily through a secret route from real life’s hustle and bustle to fictitious comfort.

I utter a sheepish sorry to Kazuo Ishiguro for not picking up his latest work, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. Tucked away on a shelf at almost ceiling height is Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, a book that I have always wanted to read but have never got round to it. That, too, will have to wait. Sorry.

Because paid for and tucked away in my bag now is Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s latest, The Angel’s Game. I swooned helplessly over his first book, The Shadow of the Wind, so I cannot wait to get home and, through that secret route, revisit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where books wake up when no one is around.

Reproduced from The Sunday Star of June 21, 2009


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