Literacy in London — Bookstores Exist!

Back from Edinburgh! Which was an absolute blast (in terms of fun and icy cold air, but more on that in a subsequent post). I actually enjoyed the food there more — things are cheaper, but in general, we kinda lucked out and every single place we went to was awesome.

But time to show London some loving! The number of independent bookstores they have, and the people who still visit them and actually buy stuff there – it’s crazy. Along the way from Leiceister Square (we were there for Misato WHICH SUCKS btw) to the British Museum, but we never made it to the latter. We got caught up visiting one store after another.

Some were not my cup of tea — I am not geographically inclined to appreciate a historical maps collection, and the fact that we had watched the Woman in Black the night before did not inspire much courage in me to enter the occult + witchery store haha. Some were closed. So suck thumb, lor.

I wish I took down the names of some of the shops. Most of them are manned by old people who smell nice (like white-haired ladies doused in lavender, or moustachy men who smell of mothballs which I like). Sometimes tattooed, pierced hipstery beardy guys sit behind the counters and those are normally the stores I know I will come away buying nothing from haha.

But almost every store has a bargain bin! Which is good for a struggling student like me, cos then I can feel all cultured & stuff without breaking the bank. Most of them are used, which makes me scared because I have dreamt of silverfish infestations that creep into every corner of my room (which also reminds me how MESSED UP my dreams have been of late). But money is not something I have an abundance of, so again, suck thumb lor.

(Also I try to tell myself I am taking home a bit of history. I like it best when somebody has written in the front cover the year in which they bought the book. You’d be very lucky if you find a love / gift note written in the front.)

We got this Prague guidebook (a 2006 version, which is okay) and Hemingway’s By-line, a collection of his journalism pieces, just for £2!

I wasn’t sure about getting the Hemingway as I had bought a collection of his fiction a couple of weeks before when we were in Bristol. But then I saw this, in the middle of the first page of the foreword, what Hemingway wrote to his bibliographer, Louis Henry Cohn:

“the newspaper stuff I have written… has nothing to do with the other writing which is entirely apart… The first right that a man writing has is the choice of what he will publish. If you have made your living as a newspaperman, learning your trade, writing against deadlines, writing to make stuff timely rather than permanent, no one has any right to dig this stuff up and use it against the stuff you have written to write the best you can.”

Somehow reading that just struck a chord. Starting sometime next August, my life will be tied up in an organization that has gotten so much flak from the public. I love journalism, the thrill of chasing a story, & uncovering the truth. But it scares me, too. The job, by nature, is difficult. That some Singaporeans love posting Facebook memes lambasting certain journos or articles doesn’t make it easier. Sometimes they have a point. Sometimes they’re just being dumb.

Reading that Hemingway quote was comforting. I’ve been harbouring dreams of writing a book for a while now (okay fine just three months) — thanks to some of the really encouraging profs I’ve had the absolute privilege of meeting in college. Knowing that Hemingway managed to separate his journalism background from his authorial one has kinda like illuminated the path before my feet.

But before you can write you must read! So here’s me attempting to catch up on my book knowledge:

NEW BOOKS FOR £2 EACH? We got these in Bristol — if I’m not wrong the store is aptly titled £2 Bookstore. According to the Very Friendly Marcus, who interviewed one of the store clerks before, the shop is making money selling factory excess copies (as opposed to cutthroat sale prices). Anyhow, looking at these amazing book covers just reminds me why bookstores will still triumph over Amazon, at least for the next 5-10 years. Each one is a work of art!

AND LOOK AT THESE AGATHA CHRISTIE COVERS. Even if you have read the bulk of the stories, whether online (cough illegally cough) or from the library, wouldn’t this inspire you to actually get your hands on at least one copy? I can’t wait to clear out my bookshelves at home and start curating them. (I will throw out The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, which is just about the most pretentious book I have read in my life. Maybe not. I want my children to see what pretentious books are, haha.)

 I got a little ballistic when I saw an Alma Classics’ paperback version of The Great Gatsby, because the cover was absolutely gorgeous. Maybe I’ll buy it for myself if I still have money leftover haha. But my point is, you can get cheap 99 cents books off Amazon, but they’ll get you the cheapest paperback. All the pretty ones, the ones with the foil and the embossed covers and the amazing lettering – it’ll cost you. But it’d be such pretty art! Not to mention a passport to a different world (corny corny corny).

You know, schools should loan Kindles to each student, and all they’d have to pay for would be the books (maybe they can give school discount) so that the next student it gets passed on to would have the library of the first and so on. It’s easy to carry around and it’d always be something the kids could do. I’m thinking of the children in the West Philadelphia schools as I write this, but why shouldn’t Singapore schools do? We have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, but we don’t read at all!

Okay lol I can’t believe I wrote an entire post about books and their covers hahahaha.

Wait, since we’re on it, might as well show y’all my programme booklets. Which costs a freaking £3 on average. (It’s compulsory for our Theatre class, but the utility doesn’t match the price, imho.) Ibsen’s A Doll House by the Young Vic was wonderful, but Dominic Savage’s Fear was crap. I’ll do a theatre round-up for posterity’s sake closer to the end of the course I guess!

Edinburgh post soon!!! Now off to eat GOLDMINE DUCK WITH ALAN & MARCUS 😀 I LOVE DUCK. Sneak peek picture:

Yes, beyond my wildest dreams, I managed to find some feat of athleticism in me to climb a mountain hill.


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