Friday, September 09, 2016

The Corner Book Stall at the Market

As the youngest of 3, with brothers much older than I am, I could not wait to grow up. After all, I saw first-hand the freedoms they had as they got older and I couldn't wait to have the same freedoms.

Freedom meant the ability to go where ever I wanted to, by bus, on my own. Freedom was also defined as getting an allowance.

The biggest symbol of this freedom was this stall in Marine Parade Market. It was a second hand bookstore. You paid money for the book and if you returned it within the stipulated period, you got some of the money back. So, the trick was to rent the book and when you returned it, you use the money you got back for the book to offset the new book.

I would take the bus there, once a month when I was younger and had less money. When I got older and had more allowance or when it was vacation time, I would go there more often and get more books. Why didn't I just go to the library? Because the owner would be able to recommend books to me based on what I had previously rented (This was pre-Amazon but he provided that service). And he had series of books that the library thought too frivolous to bring in. I remember a gymnastic series called Perfect 10 and a ballet series called Satin Slippers that I bought from him and I still have them kept somewhere in a box.

It was a great place. It was musty as book stalls with thousands of old books would be. It was hot because it was in a market. And it was tight and squeezy because the owner crammed as many books as he could into that small space. But it was a place where you could always find something you wanted to read. And the amazing thing was that he knew exactly where every single book was.

I hadn't thought about this place for a long time. In fact, since I had moved out of the East, I hardly ever went to Marine Parade Central. But I think it was always there, a memory, deep in the recesses of my memory.

This afternoon, while having lunch with my brother at Parkway Parade, another place that holds much sentiment for me, I talked about the stall and he recalled how the owner remembered him even after all those years abroad. Both of us lamented the loss of such second-hand bookstores; especially this one. Serendipitously, I strolled by the market and my heart actually stopped when I saw the stall open, right where it always was, with the shelves and shelves of books encroaching onto the walkway of the market and the owner looking like he did all those years ago.

We have far too many books at home. We could start a library. Our shelves are actually breaking under the weight of the books. But I could not resist the temptation of looking through the rows of books. I became a teenager again. With the Sweet Valley High covers of the past wedged amongst the more contemporary tween equivalents; the fantasy novels that I remember my brother read to current zombie genre ones, such a great hodge-podge of books past and present. So many of the books had covers that I remembered. The owner asked if I was looking for anything in particular. My mind was blank from the assault of nostalgia triggered by the sight, the smells and the sensation of being so close to all these old books again. I couldn't respond. 

And even though I couldn't tell him what I wanted, he seemed to know that I wanted the books from my childhood and teen years and pulled out the Enid Blytons, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys from that period (also published circa 1980). The pages were yellow and spotted and the print and font familiar. I bought what I could. I wanted to buy the Enid Blyton ones too but I have the recent editions at home and couldn't justify them.

I'm not entirely sure that the twins will read them but it was important that I had them for the twins. I told the owner that the last time I visited the stall, I was perhaps an undergrad or maybe even younger Now, I'm back, getting books for my children who are probably 3 years shy of the age I was when I first found his stall. He remembers me, for bugging him for both frivolous teen romances as well as Tom Clancy novels.

I hope he stays around long enough for them to make the same journey to him for the same reasons that I did.

For those who have asked, here's the address.

Silver Kris Bookshop,
Blk 84 #01-187 Marine Parade Central
12- 8pm  (Closed on Tuesdays)

Find the McDonald's at Marine Parade Central, then find the playground beside it and find the entrance to the market near the playground. That's where it is.


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