Blog Archive

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Books Ordered in December - Offers!

Books Ordered in December

As usual I'm letting you know of books I am ordering in the course of the month. They usually take up to a month from the date of the order to reach me. Please assume that the books are used, unless I indicate otherwise. I have also given the expected price when the books reach my shelves in blue. I am offering some of the titles at a reuced price if they are ordered and paid for within a calendar month of the date of my order. In such cases I have indicated the discounted price in red. If you want to pre-order any of them or have any questions, do contact me at
19th December
Paradise in Penang - Barbara Cartland RM40
Beloved Stranger - Elizabeth Oldfield (Harlequin/Mills and Boon, 1983) RM40
Sea Dyak Phrase Book - Sea Dyak RM350/RM300
Raffles of Singapore - Reginald Coupland (Collins, 1946) RM90
Lion City and Other Tales from Malay Literature - Roy Britton RM40
Malay Courtesy - Mubin Sheppard RM70
The Karans of Penang - Narayanaswamy (Har Anand Publications, 2007) RM60
More Far Eastern Tales - Somerset Maugham (New) RM60
Far Eastern Tales - Somerset Maugham (New) RM50
24th December

Come Tears, Come Smiles -  Ooi Chin Keat RM40
British Malaya - Frank Swettenham  (Allen and Unwin 1955) RM150
Glimpses Into Life in Malayan Lands - John Turnbull Thomson (Oxford University Press, 1991) RM140/RM130
About Others and Myself - Archibald Edward Anson (John Murray 1920. Anson was appointed as the last Lieutenant Governor of Penang from 1867 to 1882, after serving in the army in India. In his memoirs “About Others and Myself,” he describes the feeling of depression upon his appointment as Penang's Resident Councillor. It was during his appointment that the Penang Riots occurred. The riots ended when he negotiated a peace agreement between the contending parties; Red Flag and Tua Pek Kong members against the White Flag and the Ghee Hin.) RM1,500/RM1,100

27th December
A Guide To Reference Materials On Southeast Asia Based On The Collections In The Yale and Cornell University Libraries -  Donald Clay Johnson (Yale University Press, 1970) RM70
Fun with Chinese Idioms - Volume 2 - John Smithback RM50/RM40
Malaysia: A Study in Direct and Indirect Rule - Rupert Emerson (U of Malaya Press, 1964) RM50
A Short History of Malaysia - Harry Miller ( F.A. Praeger 1966) RM30
Islamic Voluntary Sector in Southeast Asia - Mohamed Ariff ( Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992) RM60/RM50
Southeast Asia: An Introductory History - Milton Osborne RM30
Extraordinary Museums of Southeast Asia - Kristin Kelly (Abrahms, 2001) RM40
Malaya and Its History - RO Winstedt RM40
Century Comics Presents Singapore's Greatest Comics - Jerry Hinds (Nice One Entertainment, 2006) RM40
Kancil and the Crocodiles: A Tale from Malaysia - Noreha Yussof Day RM30
Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo - Eric Hansen RM30
Southeast Asia: A Concise History - Mary F Somers Hedihues (Thames & Hudson 2000) RM40
The Church in Southeast Asia - Winburn Thomas (Freindship Press, 1956) RM30
Sinister Twilight: The Fall of Sinagpore - Noel Barber RM30
Memories and the National Library: Between forgetting and remembering - Kar Lin Tan, Kian Woon Kwok, Weng Hin Ho (Singapore Heritage Society, 2000) RM50
South-East Asia, 1930-1970; The Legacy of Colonialism and Nationalism - Fred van der Mehden (WW Norton & Co 1974) RM30
State and Family in Singapore - Janet Salaff (Cornell University Press 1988) RM30
A History of Modern Southeast Asia - John Bastin (Prentice Hall Press, 1968) RM40
Freedom From Fear and Other Writings - Aung San Suu Kyi (Penguin) RM30
Southeast Asia: Languages and Literatures, A Select Guide - P Herbert and A. Milner (Hawaii 1989) RM150/RM100
Chinese Beliefs and Supersitions - Evelyn Lip (Graham Brash, Singapore 1988) RM30
Memoir Khatijah Sidek, puteri sateria bangsa (Siri Memoir Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia)RM50/RM40

28th December
 stock image
The Golden Khersonese - Paul Wheatley (University of Malay Press, 1961. The copy of the book I have ordered is not in a good condition; this image is of a previous copy of the book which I have now sold. I may even want to rebind the book before sale, so the price is a guide price only at the moment.) RM1,000

30th December

Malay Adventure - JS Phillips (Puffin 1955) RM30 
Women in Southeast Asia: A bibliography  - Fan Kok Sim ( G.K. Hall, 1982) RM280/RM200

More to come...

Sunday 25 December 2011

The Penang Bookshelf - The Inside Story

Why the Penang Bookeshelf?
Find out more in The Star Newspaper's
Christmas Edition

If you want to know more about why the Penang Bookshelf was set up, its philosophy and a few other personal bits, do have a look at the two articles published in today's Star newspaper firstly on my my background and philosophy and then something about some of the books and customers' views.

The interview was given some months ago, but it still gives a fairly accurate view as to what the Penang Bookshlef's all about. If you want to be kept up to date, do subscribe to The Penang Bookshelf Newsletter on the right hand panel of this blog or just drop me an email.

Today I have also posted the latest update of my full catalogue on this blog. (There are over three hundred new titles since I last published this catalogue in November.) If you want any more information about any of the titles that are not yet up on my website, do contact me for further details, including pictures, of anything that sparks an interest.

Thursday 1 December 2011

The Penang Bookshelf - November 2011 Newsletter

The Penang Bookshelf
November 2011 Newsletter
From The Penang Bookshelf

Dear Friend,

The Penang Bookshelf's Almost Respectable 

While it's been a bit of a snoozy month for internet sales, it's been eventful otherwise.IOBALogo I mentioned in my last newsletter that I'd tentatively applied  for membership of The Independent Online Booksellers Association. I was a bit knocked out when they eventually came back to me and said, "Welcome aboard!" Although they're the leading international organisation for online book peddlers, they're fairly exclusive, only 315 members, because of their stringent rules on book descriptions and returns.

I only stumbled onto the internet as an afterthought, i.e. because I had too many books to heave along to my market stall, which was my only sales outlet until a year ago. So I try, as much as I can, to replicate online the real life book buying experience. That means good descriptions and a generous returns policy, amonsgt other things. So this is a comfortable place for me to be - amongst like minded book selling folk.

What's in it for You?

Of course I could chatter on about maintained and improved quality bookselling but probably the link to other quality booksellers and quality books is more important. I was thrilled to discover that The Penang Bookshelf is not the lone Asian representative amongst the membership. Orchid Books/Press of Bangkok joined at the same time! Interestingly they started out as a publishing house, now well established, and then branched out into bookselling, both in a shop and online. We've already been in touch

I would like to pass on the benefits of IOBA membership to you by sending out a weekly digest of books currently on offer by other members. Don't worry, you wont have to fight your way through heaps more of my verbiage. Instead the email will list what's come in that week, sorted by category, in a more helpful and down to earth way than you're used to from me.

Decent booksellers give each other discounts on purchases, My fee will be limited to 50% of such discounts. For example this week one UK IOBA member is offering 50% off any book listed at £300 and below as well as other big discounts if books are purchased before 25th December. Most of the books will not be of Malaysian/Asian interest, however if I do spot any I will alert those of you who I think might be interested.

I do  not propose to jam all your inboxes with these weekly digests so, if any of you are interested in taking advantage of offers on other members' stock, please let me know.

Special Thanks
One of the principal reasons for joining IOBA was to get a bit of support in what can be quite a lonely occupation. Being a sort of newcomer  to Malaysia and a definite newcomer to the book trade, has earned me a few strange looks as The Penang Bookshelf has been making its mark. However there are a few people who have been prepared to go the extra mile.

In Singapore there's Lelsie Lim of the book distributors, Pansing, who distribute Marshall Cavendish's books as well as my regular seller, The Gift of Rain, Tan Twan Eng's acclaimed novel about war time Penang. We not only enjoy a jokey relationship, but he's incredibly supportive in suggesting new selling opportunities that don't always involve just promoting the books his company distributes.

In Penang similar thanks must got to the equally helpful and untiring, Michelle Grimsley of Spyral Synergy. She's not exclusively involved in the book business, although she has organised book events and we may work together in the future. Her speciality is organising events that are a little more stimulating than going to the local shopping mall or steaming up in a Penang traffic jam. Like Leslie, she's been helpful with suggestions of how to expand and improve The Penang Bookshelf. She's always fizzing with ideas as you'll see from her current and past newsletters.

And last, but not least there's Lyndy Ong, the organiser of  The Little Penang Street Market .
She started by supporting my application to become a regular seller at the market, giving me my first break in the business and then invited me to share her shop. I'm sure she'd like me to mention that December's market is not on its usual last Sunday of the month in December, but on Sunday 18th December. The Penang Bookshelf will be there!

More Malay Books & An Update

It's been quite an effort between me and the US bookseller and me to co-ordinate the large purchase of books mainly in the Malay Jawi and Rumi scripts. As I've explained to some of you, I haven't been able to fulfill your orders yet because although I've already received six boxes full, some books were obviously missing. At first we thought there was a box missing in the post, but in the last few days, I've discovered they were never sent. It's a relief to know that they're not lost. In the course of our negotiations, yet more similar books have been found. So soon this bunch - pictures here - will be on their way too.

I hope to be able to devote December and January to sorting all these out as well as another lot of English language books which will comprise most of the luggage that my blindly obedient younger daughter will be brining out with her when she visits Penang in mid-December. So, you who've already reserved books, please be patient. Your books haven't been sold off elsewhere.

India Bound
After a bit of a hectic couple of months, my wife and I are off to India on 1st December and will be back a week later. So I won't be able to fulfill any orders during that period. I, and more particularly my wife, had hoped for a book free holiday. However I'm not sure I'll be able to resist the temptation in a country with one of the largest English readerships in the world. She's agreed we can book 30kg each for the return flight.

If there are any Indian published books you'd like me to look out for, do email me as I am likely to have internet access.

Thanks for The Feedback
A few of you were kind enough to tell me that the last newsletter was a bit lengthy. I haven't got out my ruler or pocket word counter, but hope this one is slightly more brief.
I was going to write a bit more, but you'll be glad to know it's completely slipped my mind.
Thanks for persevering too,

William Knox
The Penang Bookshelf

PS  The blurb at the bottom of this email is miles away and I don't know how to fix it. If you still have the interest or the stamina to read it click here  or just keep scrolling, scrolling, scrolling ad nauseam. 

It's Still Raining  
(Picture Books)

Despite my rant last month about Penang's perpetual rainy season and some far fetched correlation between that and the stream of Penang picture books coming my way, it's still raining and they're still coming. However there's a twist - it's retread, sorry, reprint season. ML217
Grudgringly I'll head the list with the third edition of The Penang Postcard Collection 1899-1930s which left me cursing that I hadn't got rid of all of my copies of the second edition earlier.  It's always been the blockbuster of the Penang picture books. It's justifiably a classic, but weighing in at close to 1.8kg, you can understand why e-books are becoming more popular. 

Close on its heels comes another, Heritage Houses of Penang, Heritage Houses of Penangthat shares a common author, Khoo Salma Nasution, probably Penang's best known heritage academic and activist, but
is from a different publisher.  The book's photographer, Halim Berbar, who's applied his prize winning techniques to more books than I've sold this month, also has considerably more life in him than all of the photographers of Postcards book.

The same publisher, Marshall Cavendish Editions,  have been excelling themselves in reprints this month and here comes another that I'd nominate for my Scrummy Books  list. As soon as you pick up Peter  Wee's A Pernakan Legacy, you'll know what I mean. It's manageable and chunky - ideal loo reading I would have thought, but I haven't given it a test run - and the pictures are just gorgeous whether they're evoking the life of the ordinary or moneyed Peranakan. It's light on text, but you won't mind since the pictures are enough and page turning exercises your thumb muscles rather than your biceps.

Yixing Teapots Still Brewing 

If there are any regular readers of this newsletter left, you must be immune by now to my excruciating effortsYixing Teapots to get more mileage out of this book, The Beauty of Yixing Teapots and The Finer Art of Tea Drinking. Well, I do still have another 20 or so copies to sell - and they're still selling. What's more this month, thanks to a US customer, I discovered that there are two more bilingual Chinese teapot books, one on Yixing and the other more general. Stifle your groans!  It seems that to qualify as a Yixing teapot expert you need to
ensure that you have a book title that's both pedestrian and chapter length. Hold your breath. This one's Chinese Yixing Teawares from the Collection of the Cheng Yang Foundation.  However it seems that if you write about other types of teapots, you're allowed more poetic licence. The other book's name is something like Purple Fragrant Teapot Treasures. I don't stock either, but can get hold of them. I am planning a special newsletter to those who have bought the book I stock, but if any more of you are interested, do let me know. 

Some Reprints Come More Cheaply

The Penang reprints mentioned above have come back at the same or a slightly higher price, but it doens't always have to be that way. As regular readers will know, one of my favourite publishers is The National University of Singapore Press. They not only publish their own fascinating titles - for me anyway - but also reprint equally fascinating tomes on Southeast Asia, usually from US university presses. I've been struggling to get rid of Jean DeBernardi's The Way That Lives in The Heart for more than a year now at a nasty price, which is almost what I paid for it in the first place. Yet again NUS Press has come to the rescue with their own reprint at about a quarter of the price. The author uncovers in a sympathetic way practices  which most Penang residents have brief brushes with and other just speculate about. The link to this reprint is here.

There's No Such Thing As Bad Publicity  

My fairly timid rubbishing of  Boris Hembry's Malayan Spymaster, in my last newsletter  
produced two surprise results. Firstly, one regular customer ordered a copy the next day and then another, who'd already bought the book knocked back with a spirited review which I've just published on the Penang Bookshelf Blog. The book's still selling nicely. 

Pointless Points????

Last month I introduced some sort of an attempt to reduce my income by giving it back to you, i.e. Loyalty Points. The nitty gritty detail of how they operate is spelt out at the very end of this newsletter.  

One of two of you wondered how on earth I'm going to administer such a devilishly complicated scheme. The answer - I'm as complex as the rest of you. Although I am hopelessly inefficient and muckily messy, one of my joys is making lists and recording things. Can't think why. As I said before, this points scheme is an experiment, like so much that happens at The Penang Bookshelf. Let's just see how it goes.

No one's yet won the RM100 prize I announced in the last newsletter for the most adventurous purchase of the month, so the prize is still open. So if you feel like buying something wildly different from what you've bought from the Penang Bookshelf before, have a go!

However the writer of the review of The Malayan Spymaster has unwittingly won herself the cost of the book, i.e. RM40 as a credit against future purchases from The Penang Bookshelf!

Why don't you submit a review of something you've bought from The Penang Bookshelf? If your review is published, you'll earn at least 10% of the cost of the book as a credit. You could earn more, depending on how much I have to throw around.   

Oh I've just thought of another possible prize this month. If you can think of something less tedious than Loyalty Points, Bonus Points, Gimmicks for the Gullible or Credit Cons to call this scheme, do let me know. There's a good chance that your imagination is a bit more sparky than mine at the moment, so why not stun yourself and win - yes, yet another - prize! 

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.

Independent Online Booksellers Association, Professional Member.


Also at: ,Ebay and at IOBAbooks

For other general books, bargains & collectables, please visit Amok Amongst Books

 Find us on FacebookVisit our blog


Telephone: +60-12-972-6485

Address: 36, Cheeseman Road, 11600 Penang, Malaysia

Registered Business No: PG0282219-D

The Penang Bookshelf's Loyalty Points

Whenever you make a purchase from The Penang Bookshelf, while being a subscriber to this news letter, 10% of the purchase price of the book excluding postage will be credited to you to use to discount the price of your next purchase.You will not earn points if the purchase price was discounted or the book was on special order where a service fee is charged. Points will also be awarded as special prizes announced in the newsletter. Points will expire six months after they have been earned.  Points will be recorded in Malaysian Ringgit and you may check your available points balance by contacting The Penang Bookshelf at any time.
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Boris Hembry's - The Malayan Spymaster (A Customer's Review)

Boris Hembry
A Customer's Review 

After this reponse to my last newsletter's small piece about this book, one customer wrote in with a spirited defence, which I've been given permission to publish, so here it is!
"Couldn't prevent myself responding re  Boris Hembry's Malayan Spymaster ... it's a book that tends to alienate people - or not. It's a highly idiosyncratic (and arguably jingoistic) view of the British planter period, from the inside. I found it fascinating - he states facts without too much embellishment, but has a knack for anecdote that entertains and transports one into a submarine or jungle patrol or rubber plantation road etc. He's also (of course) a master of understatement, so there's a bit of reading between the lines required, which could be a bit tricky / irritating for non-UK centric readers.

You can read it on all sorts of levels. It's a memoir, so it's his view of events, with all his cultural assumptions and so forth. It's all gung ho stuff - very like those boy's adventure compendiums. However when you get to it, it's also a story of a man coming to terms with himself and the decisions he's made. He's reflecting on his life from the perspective of a clear division between his glory days (pre heart attack at 43) and thereafter. And last but not least, really interesting to read his accounts of how Malaya was to a British planter (which of course will be an entirely different perspective from other social groups) and how the physical and social geography was before independence - to him.

I loved it - warts and all. So many interesting insights - he hardly saw his son grow up, but thought nothing of that, made no connections between smoking and drinking to excess, stress and poor health, the cavalier but unquestioned attitude of the large UK planting firms towards their staff ('sorry you're no good to us now, but thanks for propping up production while those bullets were flying') ... although he does take a swipe at specific people and the military in general ... on it goes."

I hope to be able to encourage more of The Penang Bookshelf's customers to write reviews, so watch out for more on this blog.

Friday 18 November 2011

The Penang Bookshelf Admitted to Membership of The Independent Online Booksellers Association

I am very pleased to be able to announce that The Penang Bookshelf has been admitted as a Professional Member of the Independent Online Booksellers Association, the leading international online booksellers' organisation. The organisation was formed in 1999 to maintain high ethical standards amongst online booksellers. Because of these high standards there are currently only about 300 members internationally. As you will see from our website these standards principally relate to descriptions of books and refund and return policies.

Membership is an initial endorsement and future promise of quality bookselling. Most of IOBA's members are in the US and UK. The Penang Bookshelf is currently one of two IOBA Professional Members in Asia.

Thanks to all of you for your support in securing international recognition of the service that The Penang Bookshelf provides to you.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Books Ordered in November

Books Ordered in November

As usual I'm letting you know of books I am ordering in the course of the month. They usually take up to a month from the date of the order to reach me. Please assume that the books are used, unless I indicate otherwise. I have also given the expected price when the books reach my shelves in blue. If you want to pre-order any of them or have any questions, do contact me at

9th November

Malayan Federalism 1945-1963  - B. Simandjuntak (OUP Hardback 1969) RM90
 For a fuller description of the book follow the link on the book's title.

Prince of Borneo -  RH Hickling (Graham Brashe, Singapore 1985. A novel about a Bornean patriot at the time of James Brooke RM30
Malaysia: Prospect and Retrospect -  Richard Allen (OUP 1968) RM30
The Story of Malaysia - Harry Miller (Faber & Faber 1st edition with dust jacket) RM80
 Penang - Cecilia Tan & Philip Little (Times Editions 1989.) This book has previously been in stock, so you can see further details by clicking on the book's title. RM50
Malaya's Freedom is Vital to Britain - John Eber (1954 pamphlet) RM90

The following are new books which I have ordered

(Where the titles are not in italics, you can click on the title for a link to more details about the book.)

The Way That Lives in The Heart - Jean DeBernardi RM60

Melayu: The Politics, Poetics and Paradoxes of Malayness - Maznah Mohamad and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied (Editors) RM60

The Most Comprehensive Eurasian Heritage Dictionary, Kristang-English/ English-Kristang - Valerie Scully, Catherine Zuzarte RM70


Travelling Nation Makers :Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia - Caroline S. Hau and Kasian Tejapira (Editors) RM75

Thursday 3 November 2011

The Penang Bookshelf Internet Anniversary Newsletter

The Penang Bookshelf
Internet Anniversary Newsletter
From The Penang Bookshelf

Dear Friend,

Excuses, Excuses 

Of course, the hastitly concocted title is a cover-up for the fact that I protected you from receiving a newsletter last month. It was busy both thanks to increasing sales - the best month yet - and my own fumblings to provide you with a better service, a wider variety of books and a whole lot more of which I'll write later.

I do have a couple of other excuses for not writing in October. Like many other members of my family, I've always lived by the adage, "When something can't be done at the last minute, it isn't worth doing at all," which is all very fine until something else squeezes into that last minute. So when APD Singapore called me on the morning of 31st October to say they wanted to see me, they provided me with the perfect excuse to procrastinate - just a little bit longer. l hosted them at the shop and think they were a bit mesmerised by the sight of this large old European of sorts ensconsed amongst piles of new and old books. They were slotting me in between more normal customers such as the big chain bookstores, Borders, Popular and MPH. (No, you're not getting any links to their sites!)

I could possibly have finished the newsletter immeditaley after that but then a publisher,
Editions Didier Millet - Hmm, I wonder how those words slip off an Asian tongue - butted in touting this book, Traditional Chinese Toggles (even I would stutter on that title.) As I have
a handful of customers on the look out for all that's fine and delectable in the Chinese art world, I bundled out another special newsletter. If you're upset that you weren't included and could be interested in the book, do have a look at The Penang Bookshelf Blog (link above) where I've deposited a copy of the newsletter. There's an excruciatingly amazing offer too!  

Reading Doesn't Have to be Cosy  
Those customers to whom I sent the special bulletin have specilialised interests, which are essential for any book selling business, but I do hope they find time to read more widely. I was a bit depressed this month when one customer said to me, "Oh a Vampire (for which insert any age, class, economic group, gender, race or religion that takes your fancy) would never read that."  Another customer asking for recommendations on a particular subject was surprised when I offered him fiction as well. Last month I highlighted the work of the novelist Chuah Guat Eng. What I like about her work is at least its trying to shake off labels.     
I suppose my parents were keen to give me an early introduction to living adventurously as this pic of me aged one and a bit in Dublin demonstrates. I hope that willingness to step into areas where others might be a little more cautious to tread serves you well too. I started this business to provide you with a broad range of reading matter - maybe not all of it literature - about Malaysia.  I hope you can maybe first take a sip and then a huge gulp of the variety on offer. October was another good month for putting up new stuff onto the web. So why not take a look and maybe even surprise
yourself by trying something that you may have done your best to avoid previously?  

My favourite customer of the week, after spending a good few minutes in the shop looking at various worthy historical and sociological works, ended up buying just one book, Barbara Cartland's Paradise in Penang. "She never came to Penang, did she?" he asked.  No, of course she didn't, but she or her minions read widely enough to convince many readers that she did.   

I've often heard people recommending books that changed their lives, but never films or TV shows. So if you feel like a change, why not wander somewhere new? All liabilty for mishaps, and even exciting developments, are disclaimed by The Penang Bookshelf.  

How About a Bit of Manipulation? 

In my last newsletter I mentioned that November always seems to be special for me - my birthday, my first anniversary as an internet bookseller  and, this year, the thirtieth anniversary of an event that changed my life. Oh! I just remembered - a book I never would have dreamed of reading before played a significant part in that life changing event. 

I had thought of celebrating this month by offering discounts left right and centre, but have dreamed up a darker alternative - loyalty points and prizes! As from the first of November, if you're already a subscriber to this newsletter, every purchase whether online or otherwise will earn you 10% of the book price. Of course, there's a catch - you can only apply these points - each one of them worth a whole ringgit, really! - against future book purchases. Needless to say, as a recovering lawyer, I've also hedged  this 'incredible' offer with all sorts of conditions.The main ones are that the points won't apply to books I have already discounted or to books specially ordered  for you, where I charge a small finder's fee. The points will only last for six months from when they've been earned. If you don't use them by then I'll snatch them back from you and distribute them as prizes to all and sundry. 

Yes, what about the prizes? Well, every month I will dole out additional points to subscribers for all sorts of wild and inane reasons. This month there are at least One hundred points (RM100) to be earned by the subscriber(s) whom I judge has purchased adventurously, i.e. strayed from his or her regular reading matter in their purchases from The Penang Bookshelf. Offhand I can think of three of you who always purchase adventurously, but don't worry, I won't exclude you!  

Let's see how it goes anyway.

Coming In From the Cold 

Although the biggest benefit of this business is very definitely the varied range of people I meet and the friendships that develop, I often do feel that I'm ploughing a lonely furrow. It's kind of my customers to say The Penang Bookshelf is unique, but that does have its downside too. Although my family is my biggest support, I do have to remember with them that there can be topics of conversation other than books.  

My first anniversary on the internet qualifies me to apply for membership of an international booksellers' association, so that's just what I have done. If I'm successful, the benefit for you will be that I'll have an external body monitoring the standards of service I provide you. As for me, it'll mean I'll have additional support from a group of fellows in the trade.

Old Books, New Books  

I noticed that most of the members of the association which I hope to join appear to sell only old books, yet in this newsletter most of the books I write about are those in print. In reality most of the books I stock are out of print. I suppose there is a sort of logic in it. I more often have more than one copy of an in print book, but am lucky if I can say the same for an out of print one.   

Nevertheless this is something I'll make an effort to redress in future newsletters. For now, I'll point out that about two thirds of the books I added in October are second-hand. I also was reasonably successful in a postal auction last month, so have a look at Books Ordered in October on my blog where you'll see them. There's even one fairly rare book in French about Melaka for the three or four native French speakers who read this newsletter.

More Paroxisms About Pricing

Back to this perennial topic. Much of last month was taken up with cataloguing the large collection of rare Malay language  books in
the Jawi and Rumi scripts which fell into my lap in the last month or so. (To customers who've reserved books in the pictures - I have received six out of seven boxes of books, so your book(s) may be delayed until the seventh box appears.) I have had tremendous asistance from three customers including this one pictured with me during a five hour stint in a KL coffee shop when we zapped through 300 or so Jawi books!

However one area where I have been given minimal assistance - you are such a coy lot! -  was on how to price them. I mean how do you price a book when you have no comparisions from your own past trading history or anyone else's? In 99.9% of the cases The Penang Bookshelf will be the only seller on the internet offering a copy of the book. I'm trying to find a price that is fair to both me and my customer

In the absence of advice to the contrary, I've decided to be brutal and adopt my usual policy when I come upon books which have no comparisons. In most cases I will charge a minimum of  RM150 (£30) (US$50) and take the consequences. However, I'm still open to sane reasoned advice, if there's anyone out there willing to offer it.

The Penang Bookshelf Goes Viral, Sorry, Global.
A growing side of the Penang Bookshelf's business comes from special orders, i.e. where customers don't see the book in stock, but want me to find it. In my yet to be published interview with the Star newspaper, I was asked why customers ask me to get the book when they can, theoretically, get it for themselves. I guess it's mainly because I take the bother out of it all. Also, as a bookseller, I can often get trade discounts, which I pass on to you, or can reduce postal costs because I buy additional books from the seller for my stock.

It's also because I have agents, possibly even willing ones, outside Malaysia. My family in the UK, don't have a choice, poor things, but this month I even managed to dragoon an ex-colleague and friend - thanks again, Rita! - in the US to help. A UK customer was missing one volume from a three or four volume set. I found the only copy of that one volume on the internet, but the seller wasn't willing to post outside the US. So, thanks to Rita, I hope the book has now arrived in the UK.

I Am Who I Am 

One of my continuing fascinations has always been language and how we use it. I suppose that's one of the reasons why the Language & Linguistics section of the Bookshelf keeps growing. (I do have my own prejudices too, you see.) 

So I'm also conscious of the fact that, although most of the readers of this newsletter are not native English speakers, I write in a style with which native English speakers would probably find more comfortable. Of course, I have agonised over this. However feedback I've recieved from all sorts of native language speakers has revealed that even if you don't like my books, my newsletter works. It'd probably because you get a reasonably uncensored picture of the person behind the business, which has only blossomed in the way it has because of plain old personal contact. However, if you do have problems with anything I write, please do let me know.

The Penang Bookshelf with Knobs On   

Thanks very much to all who responded to my plea for help in finding someone who could, I hope, produce a more effective main website and also a more meaningful logo design. As a result, I have found two lots of people I'm happy with. I'm told that the website will be more exciting, even 'interactive,' if the mood takes you. My design guy tells me that my identity 'needs adressing,' but I suppose most of you knew that anyway. 

I guess there may be some teething problems  as the web design team unscrews some old knobs and replaces them with new and extra ones. If you experience any difficulties as a result, you're always welcome to email me or phone me on 012-972-6485. At least these two means of communication won't be affected - for now.  

Longer, Shorter, More, Less Newsletters?

Today, November 3rd, is actually the day The Penang Bookshelf started poluting the internet, so I'd better wind up before another day passes and get back to what this business is really about - finding and buying books and then offloading them onto you.   

I enjoy writing these newsletters, but I am sure they do ramble on. I wondered whether it would help if they were shorter and more frequent or less frequent. No, I don't dare propose that they are longer although there's masses of earth shaking developments that I have missed out.  

For example, I haven't yet told you about my first real link up with one of Malaysia's major publishers and distributors Gerakbudaya/SIRD  or, less importantly the beginnings of my venture into non-Asian titles, Amok Amongst Books. This was actually the name I was most attached to when I started this business, but most people I tested the name out on in Malaysia, looked at me as if I'd just stepped off a Martian spaceship. So I'm now, in a very minor way, giving it a test run. One last thing - I've added a Shop on Facebook. Phew! Done. 

I think this means, if the heavens are unkind, you may get another newsletter this month.

Enjoy yourself till then, unless you've made other plans   

William Knox
The Penang Bookshelf

It's Raining  
(Picture Books)

There are two things you can be sure about in Penang at the moment. Firstly, it's sure as hell going to rain today and, secondly, there must be a new Penang picture book in the offing.  

In September  I worked myself up into a mini lather about one picture/guide book, Penang: An Inside Guide. Even though I only sold a couple   
of copies last month, it will probably take some time  ML719
before the speediness of its sales is matched by any other book. However the pictures presses have been far from silent since I last wrote.

Actually, I have a bit of a personal attachment to this next one as I and my Penang family helped choose the cover. The distributor had a nice little selling ploy - I hope I'm not maligning him - when, prior to publication, he sent me a couple of choices of cover. Having fallen for that one, of course, I couldn't say no to ordering a box of the books to fling in your direction. 

What am I jabbering on about? Well, it's Images of Penang by Alvin Loh. Yes, the cover is a bit
corny. (When will photographers discover something more photogenic than dilapidated rickshaws in this city? Nevertheless you have noticed that on the first cover the umbrella is open while on the second it is not. Originality still lives!) It's certainly got its work cut out to make an impact in this already cluttered market. Unbelievably, I do think it has a chance because, like many of these books, it covers bits that others miss out. If you're looking for a book to give to someone who doesn't know Penang, who does know the place, but misses it or just wants to remember Penang in its entireity, this is the book to get. It isn't as specialised as many of the others and is also up to date. It's also cleverly priced at RM60 a copy.    

But That's Not All - They Still Keep Coming

Almost as soon as I'd recovered from coming to terms with these two, yet another one turned up in 
the shop. I haven't had the energy to put it up on the website yet, but I liked the feel of the paper - not glossy. There's only one problem. They haven't quite caught onto the trend pioneered by Streets of George Town, i.e. keep both the price and bulk manageable.This one's RM 85 and is for the coffee rather than the bedside table. In my limited experience there's only one book of that size and price that's a regular seller, Penang Sketchbook, but I suppose it doesn't have any equal.

Me, Any  Publisher's Poodle

I do cringe sometimes when I imagine you thinking  that all a publisher has to do is soft soap me a bit and the next moment I'm all over their latest book to scrape in a few extra dollars for both them and me - at your expense, of course. Well, it's not quite like that. Nothing's perfect. For example I think Hocton & Tan know by now that for their next edition of Penang: An Inside Guide, they had better find a better proof reader. I was also a bit put out that Images of Penang appeared to be carrying some unsubtle bits of advertising for one or two Penang establishments without actually owning up to the fact. It's far from being excessive, but slightly annoying - to me, anyway. 

Niggles like these don't seem to affect sales all 
that much either. Take  a look at this book, Malayan Spymaster, a tale of adventure and skulduggery where exasperated Brits first 
have to tackle hordes of Japs and then the infuriating Commies. It's been a good seller, but at the weekend a customer told me it was 'rubbish' and had been lent to him by a friend who had the same opinion, but they both read it!

This Month's  Top Selling Categories
(In order of sales) 

A few copies of this book, Singapore - 150 Years have been dozing on my shelves for a year or more, but this month two of the remaining ones moved on leaving one left behind. The book's now quite rare. I think the Penang Bookshelf is selling the only copy of this revised edition on the internet at present. Other  booksellers are offering a later reprint.

 Andrew Barber's  Penang Under The East India Company made a surprise re-appearance in the sales lists this month together with other books about this formative period in Penang's History       

Yixing TeapotsYes, you guessed it. Copies of the late Lim Kean Siew's book  
are still selling. Stocks are disappearing, but we're still keeping the price the same - lower than anyone else, of course - for the time being.

I also got a filip when both copies of Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking disappeared this month. I stocked this on pure speculation as I thought the subject so fascinating. Who would have thought that neither Chinese nor Europeans considered Chinese to be 'yellow' until European anthropologists of the 19th century, avid to fit every one into pigeon holes, decided that's the box into which they'd put the Chinese. I am replenishing my stocks this month

Malay Letter 
At last another of my scrummy books moved, one copy of The Legacy of The Malay Letter/Warisan Warkah Melayu sold and my other copy looks as if it's about to disappear too. However, I have managed to locate a stock of them, so, although the book's out of print, there will be more in stock soon.      

This is not a section in which there's a wide selection of books but I was pleased that one of the books from this section sold last month was a fairly rare book, the first edition of Paul Wheatley's The Golden Khersonese. for a second time. I have managed to find another copy which should be in stock before the end of the year.      

I think a bit of overzealousness here has managed to produce two categories, with slightly different titles, on my website for the same type of books. I hope I get around to fixing this soon.


About which no more need be said. 
This section
has been surprisingly sleepy this month, although, of course, some books that were sold in the Literature section could appear here as well. When in Kuala Lumpur last month, I managed to fufill a long neglected ambition - to start stocking some of the publisher Buku Fixi's titles. Here is the first one I've put up on the websites so far, Gina Yap Lai Yoong's Ngeri. It's in Malay as, I believe, are all of Buku Fixi's titles. 
China - Fiction       

Malaysia - Nature & Wildlife
Heritage Trees
For me Heritage Trees of Penang has been a slow seller, which surprises me, but it  made a re-appearance in sales for this section last month. I had a chat with the authors once upon a time and the results are still on The Penang Bookshelf Blog.

Malaysia - Gender

Malaysia - Religion

whistled off my shelves this month which didn't surprise me as I haven't come across all that much written about the subject in English. I was pleased to be able to pick up a couple of more copies of this rarish book during the month, so it's still in stock         

This is a section which is quite heavy in my full catalogue, but not really adequately represented on my websites, I have just noticed. Another area for improvement!

This charming collection of anecdotes, recipies and other memorabilia is a regular steady seller. I suppose it's because it's a scrummy book  in many senses of the word. It also comes at a scrummy price, RM35! 

This category is always dominated bPenang Sketchbook but has been a bit quiet of late as I've been struggling to re-stock. Anyway they arrived at the end of last week and were selling again by the weekend.

An Apology  

Yes, I know in places - too many to mention - the formatting of my newsletters is all over the place. I do apologise.  Please bear with me as I'm not a particularly techie guy. I find that  trying to fit all the bits together takes at least twice as long as the writing. I suppose I could write less and spend more time on beautification. What say you? 

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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Telephone: +60-12-972-6485

Shop Address: 80, Armenian Street, Penang, Malaysia. (Not full-time, so please telephone to make an appointment.)

Mailing address: 36, Cheeseman Road, 11600 Penang, Malaysia

Registered Business No: PG0282219-D

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