By: Melissa Lin
For books lovers in Singapore and the region, GOHD books is a happy alternative to the mega bookstore experience. During these times where e-books have become increasingly popular, Gohd books offers a unique and personalized experience to the bookworm. Their collection is eclectic, with books ranging from the rare antiques to books whose subjects cover metaphysics, Asian history, Buddhism and others.
Apart from specializing in hard to find and obscure books, GOHD books is also a space for various events and gatherings such as flea markets, book launches, gigs, art exhibitions, parties, talks and even a two-day punk music festival.
The owner, Deyana, is a lovely person and having been to GOHD Books, I enjoyed our conversations about literature and life. Here, the personal rapport with the customer is an extension of her love of reading.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and about GOHD Books, the history of the book shop, and how it has grown and expanded over the years?
GOHD Books specializes in used books that are difficult to come by in Singapore – antiquarian/collectable books, out-of-print titles, and vintage paperbacks. While some of these books are quite easily foundoverseas, they can be impossible to acquire here. The book shop was opened about 2 years ago, in a the 2nd floor of a shophouse along Serangoon Road, above a very dodgy KTV (karaoke) lounge. It was quite fun, but bad for selling books, because the bad singing downstairs would go through their ceiling, which happened to be our floor, and we’d have to tolerate awfully-sung Hokkien and Cantonese songs every night. We haven’t exactly expanded over the years, but have grown our collectionof antiquarian/collectable books.
What was the inspiration behind wanting to start your own bookshop? Is there a particular ideal or philosophy behind GOHD Books?
The bookshop was started as an excuse to buy all the books I wanted, without feeling guilty for overspending! The ideal behind GOHD Books is to give people in Singapore good books, and to keep in line with the traditional idea of a small bookshop – cozy, obscure and with books you can’t get in the big chains.
Can you tell us a little about running an independent small business in Singapore? What is it like for you on a daily basis, and do you have any special stories to share about your experience with GOHD books?
Running an independent small business is a lot of work. It’s also annoying in a place like Singapore, where people are so obsessed with brands and big chains. Small businesses here have become an anomaly, an exotic, strange thing that the local media are always trying to hype up. Gah, don’t get me started on small businesses in Singapore. Last week, 1.500 people here queued – some overnight – for the opening of the H&M store in Singapore. I suppose that says everything. But running a bookshop is sometimes very, very interesting because you get to meet a lot of people with very different lives and thoughts. I met a guy who used to work at the mortuary, and now lectures about death and is an initiate in Tibetan Buddhism. I’ve also met some Sufis who’ve travelled the world, a guy who collects fossils, some people who are preparing for the end of the world, and many social activists.
There have been so many big chain bookstores opening up, affecting smaller and independent bookstores. Now with e-books in the mix, has it become more challenging for people like you, small book store owners to thrive?
I’m not sure yet, time will tell, I suppose! But the book scene is slightly different in Singapore compared to the rest of the world, because books have never exactly been very popular here, anyway! (Unless you take textbooks and practice tests into account.) Borders just closed down its flagship store in Singapore, after 13 years. I think it’s as difficult for big bookstores to survive here, possibly even more difficult than small bookshops, because rent has become unmanageable for everybody. At least small shops can rent a small space and don’t need to pay for as many staff, etc., but big chains must make a lot of money every month just to survive. A report in Today Newspaper a few days ago stated that the rent for the now-defunct Borders outlet was something like $571,000 a month. How many books must one sell? So I think it’s difficult for small book stores to thrive, but it’s even more difficult for the big ones.
Having said that, what do you think an independent bookstore like GOHD Books offers to the book buyer, as compared with chain bookstores?
I suppose GOHD Books offers, well, used books and not only new ones like the chains, and weirder titles. Also personalized service, and a real relationship between us and customers.
Can you comment or tell us a little about your observations about the Singaporean book buyer and reader? Any special idiosyncrasies or habits peculiar to the Singaporean reader?
I can’t really tell, because the Singaporeans who come to the store tend to be atypical anyway. But the general walk-in browser usually only buys a book he/she has heard of – so, a book that’s been reviewed, or is on a bestseller list, or something like that. The average Singaporean is probably most interested in self-help, business and children’s books; I hardly carry those types of books because you can get them anywhere, but I often get asked if I do.
You are obviously a book and literature lover. What to you is the power of the written word? Can you tell us a few titles which you believe have enriched or changed your life and how?
When you read a book, the author becomes completely invisible, unknown and faceless, and so you get to be entirely immersed in the story or in the text. You get to participate in the writing, because you’re the one projecting an image, or an emotion, or an interpretation, of whatever you’ve read.I can’t really say what’s changed my life; reading is, for me, an emotional experience, so it’s hard to say. But I love Shakespeare’s works, especially King Lear. I think Shakespeare’s a master of understanding the human psyche, and I still think no other writer has been able to surpass his use of the English language. I also love the Nahjul Balagha (or The Peak of Eloquence), which contains the sayings of Ali ibn Abi Talib, which is full of wisdom, beautiful expressions, and philosophical questions.
*GOHD Books is located at 142 Bukit Timah Road, #02, Singapore 229842. For updates on events and to peruse their incredible collection go to http://www.gohd.com.sg