Monday, December 18, 2006

Book sale report and -inspired musings

Yesterday my day began and ended earlier than usual. Although the former had been planned, the latter hadn't -- and, in fact, I had thought that I'd be in a mood to blog a bit after dinner. But since I wasn't, there was no new daily entry on this blog for the first time in -- count 'em! -- sixteen days.

All of this is but a prelude to reporting that: yes, I was over at the Little Penang Street Market this past Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. And for the first time since this monthly event's inception on 30th July of this year, I wasn't there to just buy but, instead, also sell and work!

More specifically, as previously announced on this blog, my mission was to try to find new homes for some 170 of my books (to, among other things, make room on my shelves for others). Although I didn't do so for all -- or even half -- of them, I did state earlier that I'd consider the used book sale a success if I managed to sell at least a quarter of the books I brought there. Consequently, it's with some amount of happiness and relief that I'm reporting that a total of forty-six books ended being bought by twenty-five separate buyers! :)

Now, some of you might be thinking that forty-six books sold over some nine hours isn't much at all. However, when it's realized/learnt that surveys conducted in 1996 and again in 2005 have found that the average Malaysian supposedly only reads a grand total of two books per year (or less than three hours a week), that conclusion probably will undergo some revision.

Indeed, you then might go so far as to share the view espoused by my dear mother -- who was there to support me for the bulk of those nine hours spent out in the hot and humid outdoors yesterday but would be the first to admit that she's hardly a voracious reader of books herself (even though she does religiously read the newspapers every day) -- that I probably managed to sell more books yesterday than many bookstores in Malaysia over a typical business day!

To put it mildly: It would seem that Malaysia lacks a reading culture. Yet something else which my mother and I discussed and agreed about was that it may well be so that those reported statistics of a mere two books per year (or just seven pages a days) are as high -- yes, high! -- as they are because there are a few Malaysians who do read a lot!

A case in point: I'd estimate that I read about ten new books a month on average. Alternatively put, this is 118 more a year than the average Malaysian! Then there's the unrepentant local bibliophile who came and bought five books from me yesterday despite -- this according to a story I heard -- being allowed by his similarly Penangite wife to have only five hundred books in their house at any one time, so has taken to storing extra books in other people's homes and even his car boot (or, as Americans know it: the trunk) as well as his office!!

That gentleman apart though, I feel obliged to report that my best customers -- both in terms of sheer numbers of books bought but also their inclination to indulge in book talk before and while making their selections -- looked to be non-Malaysians: i.e., foreign tourists or permanent residents. Another observation that can be safely made is that quite a few of the Malaysians who patronised my stall yesterday were people who were buying for others (e.g., mostly mothers buying for their children but also one aunt for a nephew).

Frankly, I don't think this bodes well for the future of book reading in Malaysia. For if one were to summarize the conclusions that could be made from those observations, it would be that: firstly, bibliophilia -- heck, even a basic reading culture -- is largely foreign to Malaysians; secondly, reading is an activity that seems to be pushed on younger people rather than be one which people find it in themselves to readily initiate; and thirdly, reading is something that's seen as good for you (like eating your vegetables) but, because of this, it may not be looked upon as a fun activity at all!

In closing, I'll additionally relate its being so that many of the local folks who came to check out the selection of my stall expressed quite a bit of incredulousness when, in answer to their questions, I'd tell them that: a) yes, I had read all these books and, consequently, could tell them about each book if they wanted me to; and b) all of these books didn't come directly from my bookstore -- not least because I don't have one! -- but, instead, my personal library. In short, it was like they just couldn't believe that a single person really could have read, never mind owned, "so many" (i.e., just 170!) books!

So just imagine what would have happened if I had told them that I find much joy in reading books...Although I guess that would have been a bit rich to them and particularly hard to understand, coming -- as it would have yesterday -- from someone who was out to sell (some of) her books to them. ;S


eliza bennet said...

Congrats on the successful sale -

It is really interesting on how some people like to read very much and others don't really cared for it.

My parents both loved reading and I turned out to love to browse books even before I learn to read, but my sister (although she reads from time to time) never turned out to enjoy the activity as much as I do.

YTSL said...

Hi Eliza --

Yeah, it is indeed interesting how some people like to read very much but others don't. More than BTW, care to comment about whether people from your part of the world read more or less than the average Malaysian is supposed to do? :b

Also, don't know whether you checked out the pieces I linked to this blog entry but one of them points out that movie tickets are often at least one third cheaper than books over here in Malaysia. Hence the preference on the part of most Malaysians to go to the cinema rather than read a book...

hdoong said...

Wah, wished I was in Penang to help out your book sale. I always find it fascinating meeting people at flea markets, especially when I hang around stalls that sells books or CDs/records.

I have personally made 3 very good friends when I used to frequent a flea market here in Kuala Lumpur (Amcorp Mall). I made friends with the owner who has about 5,000 classical music CDs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music.

On books, I find that most people around me do read a lot but these are mostly friends while I find my family do not read much at all. I think this is because we choose friends that have similar interests as us. I don't think, for example, my brother and sister reads more than two books a year on average, besides books that they need to study for examinations.

YTSL said...

Hi hdoong --

Indeed, it would have been nice to see you this past Sunday. And should anyone wonder: only two of this blog's visitors visited the stall...and since one of the two's my mother... ;S

Back to reading habits: Yeah, funny how it can be that different siblings can have such different proclivities. E.g., both my sister and I are the type of people who are often found with a book in our hands but techie manuals and statistics filled books (e.g., "The Guiness Book of World Records") apart, my brother is one of those who finds reading a chore.

sbk said...

Yes, congrats on a successful sale.

Of the 170 books offered what catagories sold the most? Fiction, non fiction (history, biorgraphy, science, travel etc), kids, movie, etc?

Will you set up a stall again in a few months?

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

The category which sold the most was non-fiction (particularly biographies and history). In particular, anything to do with Malaysia was hot among both locals and foreigners. Also, in contrast to their Australian equivalents, I sold both the New Zealand coffee table books I offered up for sale.

Must admit that I was somewhat surprised by this as I had expected novels to sell best but even those written by big names (e.g., Henry James, Irwin Shaw, Peter Benchley, R. F. Delderfield, Robert Silverberg, Alistair MacLean and Sidney Sheldon) didn't sell too well.

Even more surprising -- given Penangites' reputation for frugality -- was that most people didn't seem to care too much for the books which I put in the "bargain box". But, then, maybe it's because a good portion of those were in the apparently no longer sought-after "paranormal" category... ;S

As for whether I'll set up the stall again: I'm still thinking about this.

eliza bennet said...

I hope you will keep on having good trade :)

And Turks usually don't read (newspapers, I don't include). So they are very suprised when a local actually reads books in a café, at the bus, waiting for the subway etc.

One of my ex-boyfriends actually never read one single novel in his whole life!

I love going to flea markets, especially for books since you can find treasures (a person's trash is another person's treasure) :)

YTSL said...

Hi again Eliza --

Absolutely re one person's trash being another person's treasure! :)

alejna said...


Congratulations on your sales, and making room in your collection (i.e. on your shelves) for new friends. I'm a book junkie, too, and know how hard it is to part with them (books, that is). I also have been thinking of thinning out my book collection a bit, but haven't made that big step yet.

On the topic of reading, I am a bit of a lapsed book reader myself. There were a number of years when I'd plow through a book or two a week. Since I've been in grad school, though, I've read embarrassingly few books. (Read lots of articles, though...) And when I have time to read for enjoyment, I tend to reread my favorites.

Interesting info on the Malaysian book/reading culture, too. Thanks for sharing that!

YTSL said...

Hi Alejna --

I like re-reading my favorites too. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that practice is what I use to justify holding on to as many of my books as I do! ;)