A store all her own

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS -

ended up open­ing a book­store in Kota Kinabalu. You’re nuts, you might say, to even think there would be enough book-lov­ing cus­tomers to sup­port such a no­tion. That didn’t mat­ter. What mat­tered was my dream, a rather ir­re­sistible one, and I thought my­self jovial and con­ta­gious enough to turn any­one into a bibliophile, to make read­ing a cus­tom and quirk of that small town.

I didn’t have a clue, but the book­store still stands right in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, though it is now in the bet­ter hands of a more strate­gic and re­silient per­son. That crazy phase in my life, when I was naïve enough to turn my be­lief that books are an es­sen­tial part of any life worth liv­ing into a re­al­ity, still stirs once in a while, and when a good friend gave me a won­der­ful book called The Lit­tle Book­store Of Big Stone Gap, I found so­lace and con­so­nance.

“Peo­ple who like to read love be­ing in massed as­sem­blages of books: book­stores, li­braries, homes where the walls are lined with shelves and spines,” says Wendy Welch, the au­thor who, along with her hus­band, got sick of their high fly­ing jobs and de­cided on a whim to start a book­store and made it up as they went along in a lit­tle com­mu­nity where the store gets a frowned-upon, feigned wel­come.

I could have been a good friend or a soul mate of Welch. Like me, Welch could no longer stand rent­ing the space in­side her skin by al­low­ing her book­store to be merely a wish­ful dream. She bought a large, beau­ti­ful, scary home, leav­ing out her dream, just like mine, of liv­ing above a book­store.

“Fol­low­ing your ig­no­rance is a bliss,” Welch says, and I so agree. While she started off with her own book col­lec­tion, about 500 ti­tles, I went fur­ther. I called book­sellers and spent a for­tune stock­ing up new ar­rivals and best­sellers I thought would thrill my cus­tomers. The day the rent was due was also the day the books ar­rived, all flown in from KL, mak­ing the price of ig­no­rance more palat­able.

Ev­ery­thing that Welch and her hus­band went through res­onates with my own ex­pe­ri­ence as a book­store owner, and ev­ery one of her anec­dotes jus­ti­fied my year of liv­ing reck­lessly. I was merely 24 years old then, and in my first job that, thank­fully, paid well enough to half-spon­sor my mad­ness. “Hu­mans have a nat­u­ral pro­cliv­ity to not step out­side our com­fort zones,” Welch soothes in the book, as if de­tect­ing my dis­gruntle­ment.

It seems to me to be one of life’s great para­doxes that my ex­pe­ri­ence as a book­store owner – even if only for a lit­tle while – helped pave the way to the next phases of my life. De­spite all the sim­i­lar­i­ties, as­pi­ra­tions and res­o­nances Welch and I share, we did not end up at the same spot. While Welch and her hus­band have gone on to live their dream of liv­ing large in a small­town book­store, I am now merely a cus­tomer.

Many peo­ple, other than the au­thors, con­trib­ute to the mak­ing of a book. Welch al­lows sto­ries to be safely told in her house, while I lend my ears. Which role is bet­ter? Some­times, the ques­tions are com­pli­cated and the an­swers are sim­ple – any role that helps to rekin­dle read­ing is good, not bet­ter.

Ku­dos to Welch and her hus­band, Jack, for their en­deav­our and their won­der­ful book. And a round of cheers to all as­pir­ing book lovers dream­ing of open­ing a store of their own. We all help books live in our own way.

Abby Wong had the im­mense plea­sure of read­ing the en­chant­ing The Lit­tle Book­store Of Big Stone Gap thanks to her dear friend Kit, mer­chan­dise man­ager of Ki­noku­niya Book­stores, Suria KLCC. Since then, the book and I have tied the knot and we are in­sep­a­ra­ble.

Book lover’s dream: What bet­ter way to spend your time than in a book­store, sur­rounded by piles of books?

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