The Penang Bookshelf
July 2011 Newsletter

From The Penang Bookshelf


Swamped by Books  


Not only was I tripping up over second -hand books most of the time I was in the UK, but my Penang family have been extremely adept at skipping over the bundles of new books from Malaysian and Sinagporean publishers that have been arriving since my return.   


In the UK the major event was, of course, the book auction where I and my younger daughter - brought along for not only a bit of bonding, but for some muscle work as well - were made to feel more than welcome. I suppose that it did help that we walked off with about 90 books, most of which I hope are on the high seas to Malaysia at the moment. If you're at all interested to know what I picked up, do check here. These books and about 50 more that I picked up while away should start turning up on my shelves, either in Penang or on the web, in August.  (Actually, some are there already.) 


Back home, I've taken my first deliveries from Monsoon Books, the National University of Singapore Press and the Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD). I've also been travelling inland to collect books, to Ipoh. There I met the very friendly team at Media Masters and picked up books from them, from their associates, Perak Academy, and a couple of self-published books. 


And, believe it or not, some of this activity is reflected in  the section New Arrivals in July on my main website. Other orders have turned up as well. I will  keep up my practice for the time being of notifying you of orders in advance on The Penang Bookshelf Blog ,  so do keep checking in between newsletters.  I think if you're really keen, you can subscribe to receive emails of my blog. Could lead to information fatigue, I suppose.  


Bookseller and Now Book Distributor


In the course of the month I was flattered to be asked to be the distributor in peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by the author, Tom McLaughlin, for his new book Borneo Tom  Borneo Tom

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McLaughlin has an unusual story and an unusual way of telling, in both word and cartoon. I like his humble, but humourous style.  If you still need convincing,  have a look at  Borneo Tom Reviews.   


I'll devote myself in August to doing the rounds of the Penang bookshops and wander further afield later. If in the meantime you would like the book stocked in a bookshop near you, do contact me. Maybe life does go around in circles...my first job while at university was selling encyclopaedias!  


A Jewel in Johor 


You may have noticed that some of my  ageing stock has been given a new lease of life by being rebound in either blue or green leatherette.  If you have a book that's falling apart and you want to knock it back into shape again, I would strongly recommend   The Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JORAS). If covered in this style they cost about RM35 (including return postage within Malaysia) and if they're  with leather covered corners and spine  they cost about RM55.  JORAS has customers, including major libraries, all over the world and they're lovely to deal with. You can email Mr Ong Hon Yew, the Operations Manager, or speak with Letchimi, who's in charge of the book binding section. Her number is +60-7-224-5632.  


What's a Book Worth or What will it Sell for?  


When I was a regular browser of second-hand book stalls and shops, I used often to wonder how much of a mark-up the book seller was making.  Now that I'm on the other side of the counter, I find that pricing 'rare' books is the most difficult part of this business. (It may not surprise you that one of the reasons I loathed being a lawyer was that I squirmed most times when I had to deliver a bill.)  


Take this example - I bought a book in Penang this month for RM15 (US$3). When I got home and checked on the price, I found that the only copy available on the net was being sold for a nearly US$330! In fact, in such cases I have a weird formula which means I usually end up charging two-thirds of the price of the competition, but I'm still not comfortable with it.  


I suppose I'll learn that the value of a book is what the market will bear, but that doesn't really relieve my discomfort, if I think my profit's too much. Fortunately, that's rare. More than 95% of my stock is charged at about 30% of what I've paid for the book, particularly for books currently in print.  So, if you're ever puzzled as to how I've priced a book, don't be shy. I'll be more than happy to tell you. 


An Interview with the Authors of Heritage Trees of Penang, Just Published by Areca Books.


I first set foot in Penang in the early 50s, when my father was a Singapore based journalist for a British newspaper. He first came to Penang about ten years ahead of me when he had the misfortune to be part of the Indian Army drafted in to defending the peninsula against the Japanese.  Of course he ended up as a prisoner of war under the Japanese.  


Perhaps in homage to him I have decided to try each month to interview an author or a publisher. My first attempt was earlier this month with Simon Gardner and Lai Ee May, two of the three authors of Heritage Trees of Penang  just published this month by the Penang publishers, Areca Books.   

Heritage Trees  


I hope they didn't find the results too gruelling. If you want to know a bit more about the book and what we chatted about, you'll find it here.  

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 What About the Fiddley Bits? 


Although this newsletter hasn't been quite as painful to produce as the first, I have made life a bit more difficult for myself by playing about with PayPal buttons and putting in a few more links to my own and others' websites. I wonder does this help or just add too much clutter? I'd love to know.


By the way, I did have a question from a customer this month about PayPal. He wondered who they were and whether they were trustworthy. If you're wondering about them too, they're a subsidiary of EBay and claim to be the most popular way of paying online. You can either make payments through your own PayPal account, if you have one, or pay via PayPal using your credit card, if you don't have a PayPal account. Most of my Malaysia based customers pay by deposit into my bank account here. I have also used my UK bank account similarly, if anyone would like to use this option.  


I'm also still ready for any other feedback that you'd like to give me.  My initial newsletter seemed to get off to a reasonable start, more than half of you opened it and only one person decided they couldn't face receiving another one. However I'm always ready for new ideas about this newsletter, what I should stock, my prices or anything else. Just shout!


Thanks for reading this far. I look forward to being in touch again.


With my best wishes,


William Knox

The Penang Bookshelf 












Currently Popular

The Beauty of


Yixing Teapots


The Finer Art of  

Tea Drinking 


Lessons from a  

Penang Connoisseur 


Yixing Teapots 

More About the Book   


One of the more enjoyable aspects of bookselling are bursts of popularity for some books that I find ia bit puzzling. In this case the book has been lurking on my shelves and websites for a couple of months or so. The first sign of interest I had was a call from a journalist on Malaysia's Star Newspaper.  She was researching for an article on these marvellous objects. The article duly appeared without any mention of the book because I couldn't get it to her in time, but within a fortnight I had orders from, firstly, New Zealand  and then the UK with promises of more orders to come! I know I'm selling this out of print book cheaper than anyone else on the net, but that still didn't stop me from wondering about an internet conspiracy. The booklovers' equivalent of the hacking group, Anonymous, perhaps? 


If you're interested in a copy, do contact me as I still have copies, for now, at this price.




                Book Price Including Shipping




  Or Email Me To Order A Copy  


One happy byproduct of all this is that I'm off to meet the journalist this weekend for an interview about the Penang Bookshelf... 


This Month's  Top Selling Categories


Malaysia - Fiction   


Malaysia - Pre- Independence History 


Malaysia - Minorities   


  Malaysia - Biography  


Malaysia - World War II  


Malaysia - Children  


Malaysia - Language & Linguistics  


Malaysia - Magic & Popular Religion  


Malaysia - Religion  


Malaysia - Nature & Wildlife  


Penang - Art  


Penang - Guide Books  


Penang - Photography   


Asia - History  


China - Fiction  


India - Fiction  


Hong Kong - History  


Customers' Wish List


As you may know, I not only supply books from my stock, but also can help find books for you too. I charge 15% of the cost to me of obtaining the book, with a minimum charge of RM15 and a maximum of RM55 per book. Most of the time I'm successful, but some of the time I'm not. So I thought it might not be a bad idea to publicise what some of my customers are looking for. In some cases they're looking for specific titles, in other cases books about a particular subject.


If you have anything in the list below and want to part with it, do contact me and I'll see if the searcher is interested. I would charge the searcher a handling fee based on the rates outlined in the previous paragraph.


Of course this could be a marvellous excuse for you to set off for a browse in your neighbourhood bookshop and earn some money for yourself. Anyway, whichever way suits you best, I'd be grateful for your help.  


The List


  • Bijdragen to de taal-, land en volkenkunde - Deel 131  (1975) 
  • Federated Museums Journal  Vol 21 (1976)  
  • Green is the Colour by Lloyd Fernando (original edition) 
  • Hikayat Abdullah (Original Malay Version, not the English translation)   
  • Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol 12, No 3 October 1934
  • The same - Vol 24 Pt 1 May 1951 
  • The same - Vol 27, Pt 1 May 1954
  •  Pending Permata by Shamus Frazer  


Finally, I have a customer who is writing a novel set in the Portuguese Eurasian community in Penang in the 1970s/80s. She was wondering if anyone had any memoirs, novels or other literature about the community at this time.


If you have any wants/wishes that you would like added to this list, do let me know  


Two Cheers for Pos Malaysia!


The Malaysian postal service, Pos Malaysia, is vital for my existence, but like any other monopoly worldwide, I suppose, they can be frustrating. Generally visiting a post office is far from a pleasant experience. Most of the staff I've come across can hardly be said to be models of efficiency or inspiration.  


However there is one exception, a post office about ten minutes drive from my home. It's difficult to spend longer than about 10 minutes there whatever the length of the queue. I can't think of another post office anywhere which is quite honestly a joy to visit. By now they're getting used to this book laden customer who's become a regular. The staff are  friendly as well as efficient. So far not a single parcel I've sent has failed to reach its destination in good time. Oh sorry, there was one exception  - an unfortunate cutomer who had to wait for two months for some books to travel by surface mail from Penang to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah! 


On the receiving end I have also had a 100% success rate, but there have been some close calls. I received a book today that had been posted airmail from the States in April. I also once had to wait for five, instead of the usual two or three, months for a book to come by surafce mail from the UK. It was a bit nerve wracking as it was quite a valuable and rare book. In the end I resorted to the Knox family remedy for anything that's missing - a prayer and an offer of cash to St Anthony. The book turned up the next day!


I also know that when I order from one of the largest booksellers in the UK, there's almost a 100% chance that the books will be delayed because they're opened by some annoying team in Kuala Lumpur. I don't think they're censors, but lackeys of something like the Ministry of Agriculture checking to see whether I'm smuggling in plants or seeds that will upset Malaysia's natural beauty.  They always indicate they've had a look by slapping yards of their own embossed sticky tape on the parcel. In one case they completely re-packed the book in their own very handsome packaging.


Given all this one can understand why several international booksellers refuse to post to Malaysia. Based on my experience, I would say Pos Malaysia are fine, but you do need patience and, in some cases, prayer helps too.  



About The Penang Bookshelf
The Penang Bookshelf specialises in providing book lovers with a broad range of new and second-hand books, both fiction and non-fiction, primarily about Malaysia, but also about other parts of Asia as well.

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