The Bad Brunei Bookshops

The Singapore Straits Times had an interesting article called the good bad books. The good bad books just mean books that are very poor in terms of accuracy of details but are just plain good reads. The most famous currently being the Da Vinci Code written by Dan Brown. A movie starring Tom Hanks is currently being produced but this is pending the outcome of the trial of the infringement copyright as another author had claimed that Dan Brown wrote Da Vinci Code based on his book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. I thought the book was an interesting read and since I don't know anything about the conspiracy theory with regard to that aspect of the religion, it was an eye opener. The Harry Potter books are also good. Some would argue that the Harry Potter series are included in this good bad books categories. To me, does it matter? What matters, is that the books sell.

So, is there a bad good book? Yes, according to the ST, though I won't repeat the lists here. I haven't read any of those books myself so it would not be fair to prejudge these so called bad good books. Though it's kinda a misnomer to call something bad good books.

Anyway, I don't know about you. I am not really bothered with accuracy in fictions. Afterall, it is a fiction we are reading. If you want accuracy, read a documentary book or watch the Discovery Channel or something. Fiction writers are supposed to explore their world and make use of those imagination. They don't call it creative writing if you have to stick accurately to whatever is going on. Though the danger of sticking to something accurately is that your book will age very quickly. Events passed and your books will pass too. Jeffery Archer's books are cases in point. Written mostly during the Thatcher era, if you pick up the books again, you know the setting is 20 years old.

I would love to argue about books but there is hardly anyone to argue with in Brunei. Our bookshops are, if I may use such a word, crap. We don't have the equivalent of a small Kinokuniya or MPH or Borders or Barnes and Noble. I am not asking for a huge mega one but just a small store will do. But I am waiting in vain. Booker International is about the best one there is and will be, some would argue Best Eastern too which I have to grudgingly admit (though reject books P&E will never be one). But these are no where near the standards of bookshops that I would want to have in Brunei.

The question is - is it us in Brunei that do not want all these? The last Book Fair which took place at the Indoor Stadium as all previous few years' Book Fair is an indication of the kind of books that we read in this country. Honestly I walked in and out in about 10 to 15 minutes flat. If it wasn't for a couple of books that my son wanted to get, none of the book vendors would have received a single cent from me. Am I being snobbish? I don't think so. The quality of the books being presented is simply awful. If you wanted a text book exhibition, by all means have one. If you want a religious book exhibition, go ahead. But to lump everything under one and called it a Book Fair is something which can get you sued for false advertising.

I find it sad that we as a nation with a very high level of literacy rates (98%) cannot find the time to appreciate good books. Until we have decent enough bookstores, I am still relying on
and to provide me with the books that I need.


Anonymous said…
I've long lamented the absence of good bookstores in Brunei. Kinokuniya and Borders are my absolute favourite stops when I'm in Singapore.

And while I can't speak for the Harry Potter books, I think the ST nailed it when they called The Da Vinci Code a good bad book. Dan Brown is a good story teller but his writing style leaves much to be desired. And "Angels & Demons" is better (so says I and nearly everyone I've met who has read both books)

Brunei isn't a place for a wide range of books. Instead, I try to find cheap books that I wouldn't have otherwise bought had the priced been any higher. For this I highly recommend Paul & Elizabeth in Yayasan because every so often they have a "bargin bin" section. Use cheap books as an opportunity to widen your reading habits.
Anonymous said…
when i was younger, there used to be a Rex bookstore, a small bookstore at the brunei hotel. i used to get my enid blyton books then. nowadays, bookstores in brunei is not that much fun. the indian run ones tend to sell textbooks and religious books only. for really good books, it has to be booker, tho p&e also sell lots of reject books especially text and documentary books. good value though. lately i noticed they also sell malay novels and religous books. i went like huh? when i saw these the last time i went there.
Anonymous said…
You can argue about books with me anytime =D

I'm over here, so I've obviously missed out on that Straits Times article, but I think what they mean to say is coincidentally what I said in one of my recent posts. Because I'm over here in the country of that language you refer to, I get to gawp at the insane volume of bad books which have been coming out recently. Taking into consideration the top-selling booklists over here, in a nation where construction workers read Paul Auster on the public transport, a book is more likely to be considered 'good' based on the popularity of its sales, rather than the quality of its content. And as it happens, we're starting to see more books which show none of the traditional appreciation of literature.

Harry Potter may be considered 'bad' by some because the plot is somewhat Americanized - think Arnold Schwarznegger and Chuck Norris ;) Although it is easy and entertaining, the quality of the plot is actually quite average. However, it is popular because it is exactly what kids want to read - think of the plots in their favourite computer games!

On the other hand, Dan Brown's bad writing is unforgivable. He may have chosen the right plot to catch the interest of the world, but his writing leaves much to be desired - he should market himself as a screenwriter, not an author, and that is probably the nicest thing I can say about him.

It is hardly a matter of accuracy - fiction is fiction! Accuracy is rare, even in the case of documentaries and reports, because consider that a thinking person had to write it, and a thinking person will be biased in some sort of way.

However, capturing the zeitgeist of a certain period in a certain location is extremely important - please do not dismiss this lightly. Think F Scott Fitzgerald - evergreen plots with the distinctive flavour of the 1920s to mid-30s in America.

John Ruskin once wrote in his essay Sesame and Lilies that there are two kinds of books - one for the moment and one for all time. Jeffrey Archer is definitely not one to remain popular to the next century. An old book lasting and an old book passing are two separate things.

The bookstores in Brunei ARE crap. However, it requires a large capital to run a bookstore business, and turnover is slow. In my opinion it is the libraries which need to start introducing incentives to take a real interest in good books - make them available, and promote them with a bit of passion. The market will then take care of itself, and the bookstores will pick up on this.
Unknown said…
Libraries! UBD libraries have an amazing classics. I did a literature course when I was back in second year, and we did modern contemporary writings and practically everything was there. From the Southern to the Harlem Renaissance (best era, to my view), from English modernists to American authors. DH Lawrence, Woolfe, Eliott, Dahl, Ishiguro, Douglas Adams, Fitzgerald (one of my favorites), Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, also my favorites, to mention a few.

Of course there are a lot of popular fiction as well, Angels and Demons and the Da Vinci Code are both there as well and other Dan Brown's books, Crichton, and quite a wide range of books from Asian writers (Amy Tan, Adeline Yen Mah, Jung Chang, etc) , Middle Eastern writers and African writers of our times.

Well, my point is that, the library is full of books (DOH), and it is open to the public as opposed to what people think. It is easy to get membership too. I don't mean to sound like I am giving a sales pitch hehe, but anything to promote enriched reading!

And so, you can talk to me about books as well, but unfortunately I am restricted to the classics for now. :)
Unknown said…
UBD libraries have an amazing classics. ---> I meant UBD library have amazing classics.

Sorry, in my excitement I forgot to double check.
Anonymous said…
I agree, Maurina - UBD has a surprisingly excellent selection of books =) Even some rather raunchy ones as well - they've got a copy of Geoff Nicholson's Footsucker.... so of course I had to read it XD Man was it bad.
Anonymous said…
Reason why we don't get good books has to do with the emergency security act and that the government seems to want to keep their people 'controlled', try talking to the owners of Solitude because they actually wanted to open up kind of like Borders in Brunei, they figured if they just concentrate on the islamic religion, they wouldn't get alot of hassle getting the books in, were they wrong when they found out. Good talk with the owner tho.
Anonymous said…
same here! I wish there's a good bookstore with loads of books. Schoolbooks and Novels especially.
Lydia Chian said…
Yea I have to say that I couldn't find much good bookstores in Brunei for years around. The only bookstores I've visited so far were Best Eastern, Booker International and Icklebooks. I usually went to Booker International or Best Eastern because it's more convenient for me to get books I wanted. As for Icklebooks I have to say they sell mostly kids' books and some textbooks.

I heard that there's this bookstore in Jerudong called Reader's Haven where they sell new books and 2nd hand books as well. I haven't been there. Maybe after my A levels I would.
Anonymous said…
you really wonder why? tsk,tsk.. tis simple. everything is regulated. Your foodshops, clothes, and especially your books.I don't think I really need to tell WHY or WHO regulates it,right? you are making me laugh.
Anonymous said…
Yeah I agree that bookshops in Brunei are CRAP that's all there is to it. Best Eastern books are expensive then again they only sell books that are hit sales and shitty novels that does not educate up the kids. The best I can recommend is Booker but even they are mainly selling novels these day as for my genre is History I have to say I prefer to buy from Amazon or the Book Depository as that how I get them and their books are way cheaper than those sold in Brunei. Which is why I rather go to Miri to buy some books

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