Blog Archive

Saturday 28 September 2013

The Penang Bookshelf's September 2013 Newsletter

The Penang Bookshelf's 
September 2013 Newsletter

From The Penang Bookshelf
Dear Friend

All Fingers and Thumbs   
Although it did take me four attempts to pass Elementary Maths when I was about 16, I still like to confuse myself with numbers. So I've been doing my bit at fiddling the books since I last
The 4 Rs of Asian Sopping Centre Management. (PB)
wrote. The quest? Where does The Penang Bookshelf's income come from? It was a bit startling to discover that only 40% of gross income from the last six months came from those of you who bought directly off the internet. The rest came from Penang and, significantly, from a sizeable chunk of you who opted for the 'personal touch' by phone, sms and email to buy what you'd seen on the internet. The lesson? On the eve of my first successful British driving test after a scar free five years in the mayhem of Kenyan motoring, my instructor pleaded with me ", Mr. Knox, you will pass if you just keep on remembering one word - Courtesy." OK, maybe I do need to be a bit sweeter. .

Think of a Number...Then Double It

After three years of fumbling, I'm gradually getting the hang of pricing. Most of The Penang Bookshelf's inventory has a 30% mark up whatever stupid price I've paid for the book. But null then you get puzzlers like this one, Musings of J.S.M.R. Mostly Malayan (PB).  As I surreptitiously look over my shoulder I see two other copies for sale online  at present. One's at twice the price of The Penang Bookshelf's copy and the other at about US$100 more and both are in a worse condition. If anyone knows what's so special about the book, I'd love to know. It's probably a case of the blind leading the blind. Yes, I'll probably settle for something less than advertised.

At least those two copies were already for sale before The Penang Bookshelf snaffled up its copy. However in the next case there were no
Mas Sepuloh - Baba Conversational Gems (PB).
copies, but additional copies miraculously appeared on Amazon not too long after The Penang Bookshelf's copy went up online. There's a chance that one or all of these copies are being advertised by what are known in the trade as 'scammers,' i.e. they don't actually have the book in stock, but will buy it off someone who does, if they get an order. So do be warned. And don't think it's just a US phenomenon. I think I've spotted at least one scammer in Singapore.

Bestsellers - Changes, But Not at The Top

The Penang Bookshelf's  Bestseller List (PB) has seen a few changes since the last newsletter. Sadly the only two Malay books on the list have dropped out for now but.Malayan Spymaster (PB) still holds its position on top. Whereas most of the other books on the list are sold either exclusively to customers at events or online, this one holds its own amongst both groups of customers.

Made It!

Although it's chicken feed compared to the inventory of most online booksellers, The Penang Bookshelf has managed to reach the heady heights of having a thousand books up online.The results of this frantic effort are reflected in
(PB)  and New Arrivals for September  (PB) Categories. August was a bit snoozy as I was away in the UK for most of it. I was sorely in need of a pick-me-up from Lupong: The Manang Healing Kit  (PB) after that exertion! However resting on laurels is strictly forbidden. A look at our full catalogue gives you some idea of the target.

Place Your BetsThe Penang Bookshelf's Third Anniversary has
Looking Back - Tunku Abdul Rahman (PB).
come and gone, but, like public holidays, you don't have to wait long for another reason to celebrate.The Penang Bookshelf's  Third Internet Anniversary falls on 3rd November. I suppose I should do something about it. In the past our spurious 'offers' don't seem to have affected sales patterns all that much. However, this time The Penang Bookshelf's creative team has decided to copy a recent bank promotion here and give subscribers to the newsletter a cash back. Of course you have to spend something first. The tortuous details are on The Penang Bookshelf Blog. I suppose it may appeal to the punters amongst you.

As usual, there's lots more to write, but I've probably tried your patience enough.

With best wishes and thanks,

William Knox
The Penang Bookshelf     

If you live in Malaysia and want to follow a link to a book, please click on the main link in each case. If you live elsewhere, please click on the (PB) link that follows the main link.

News Snippets 

So Long, Bibliobimbo! 

Since the last newsletter, Teresa, my Penang support, has joined the familiar Malaysian brain drain to null Singapore. Pity her. I'm already getting the equally familiar reports of exiles, i.e. that the city state ain't at all like home.  And just in case you're bridling at my sexist portrayal of this wretched escapee, the term was coined in retaliation against her calling me 'Ah Pek' ('old codger' in the Penang Hokkien dialect.) I'll be looking for a replacement in due course. So if you, or anyone you know , is interested in books, is computer savvy, wants to work part time, can put up with exploitative wages and believe you can learn something about the book trade at The Penang Bookshelf, do contact me.   Beef cake, bimbos or coffin dodgers are all welcome to apply. 

When One Door Closes...

 Almost as soon as Teresa was out of the way, The Penang Bookshelf had the good fortune to team up with Leo Books, one of the last independent book stores in Penang. They're based at Island Plaza and null sell a wide range of popular overstocked, out of print and used books of all descriptions. What do we do together? Well, apart from giggling and mutual back slapping, Leo kindly stock some of The Penang Bookshelf's books in their store, we've had a joint venture at Little Penang Street Market, and we're planning more joint operations for Penang bibliophiles.  Amongst other things they have played their part in shifting umpteen copies of Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya  (PB) which isn't surprising really.  A copy's never been sold to a customer who hasn't actually had the opportunity fondle the massive tome beforehand.  I've yet to find a way of making it look impressive online.  

Do Drop In

There seem to be a growing number of you with the courage and stamina to visit The Penang Bookshelf's chaotic mess in Batu Ferringhi that makes a feeble attempt to pass for a book shop. An average of more than one a week has turned up recently. One new customer flew all the way from KL to visit Penang for  a few hours. It was his first time here, but he didn't come for the food. He walked off with The Penang Bookshelf's most expensive sale to date. We were even graced with a party of about a dozen or so from Singapore on a literary tour of Penang. They begged me for a lecture which made me ponder a while on  the business. Two bits may be worth sharing - a) I prefer buying rather than selling books and b) as a result of (a) you're unlikely to find a similarly extensive collection of books for sale on Malaysia and Singapore anywhere else. However, do remember to call to make an appointment beforehand.  

Postal Pranks    

Malaysia's online selling community had a lovely excuse to moan  long and loud  when Pos Malaysia recently had a fairly clumsy attempt at muddling its overseas rates - and then changed its mind a couple of weeks later. I was sufficiently shook at the announcement to revive The Penang Bookshelf Blog again. I think so few people had attempted the fairly hopeless task of trying to make some sense of the news, that the trenchant analysis (sic) has been the most frequently read post ever! Since The Penang Bookshelf's growth is attributable to occasional learning from the horrible self-inflicted messes, we wondered what we could do about this one. So we're proud to announce an exciting but frustrating partnership with Pos Malaysia for the benefit of our US customers. We've rounded up a group of unemployed Mexican gauchos (cowboys) to establish Catapulta Correo (Catapult Mail?). Mexico, is priveleged to be the only place in the Americas which can receive cheap surface mail.  Honoured gauchos receive our packages which are then flung over the border to our grateful US clientele.

Promises are Made to be Broken, No? 

Although I keep telling myself that I need to stop accumulating and do more about selling, a life long addiction to rummaging in second hand bookshops is not that easy to shake off. So here's the latest lot, mainly from my trusty US support, Craig, who hangs about on the outskirts of Chicago. New and old stock take an age to find their way onto the websites, so, if there's anything that grabs your fancy, do contact me for more information. 

Tell Tales Signs

As any seasoned followers of The Penang Bookshelf's haphazard attempts at publicity will know, a few posts on The Penang Bookshelf Blog  usually indicate that a Newsletter is on the way. Nothing changes. The only recent post that I haven't referred to is the latest Random Review which has been sitting around half written for a while.You get three books roughly reviewed  for the price of one this time,

PaddingI forgot to mention last time that The Independent Online Booksellers Association were kind enough to ask me to write about my experiences
. If you haven't read enough already, look here.

The Penang Bookshelf is now a supposedly a Power Seller on eBay. It baffles me since to me the layout is far more confusing than on the main websites, but I'm not complaining.

And finally, on some days books just don't sell so this keeps me creative until the next sale.

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: AbeBooks.,Ebay and at IOBA  

Category Pages - Asian Fiction,      Asian History,     Asian ReligionsBorneo  Chinese Ceramics   Malaysian Architecture  Malaysian Agriculture   Malaysian Arts and Culture  Malaysia: CartoonsMalaysian Chinese Community  Malaysian Cooking and Food Malaysia: Colonial Biography,     Malaysia: Modern Biography,   Malaysia - Fiction  Malaysia: Journalism,    Malaysia: Language & Linguistics,     Malaysia: Literature, Malaysia: Malay Community   Malaysia & Singapore: 19th Century History,   Malaysia: Post-Independence HistoryMalaysia: Miscellaneous, Malaysian Nature and Wildlife    Orang Asli (Indigenous People)    Malaysian Poetry  Malaysian Politics  Malaysia: Religion   Malaysia & Singapore: World War II  Perak    Singapore: Anthropology & Sociology     Singapore Fiction


Telephone: +60-12-972-6485 
Business Address:  Aquarius, 4-8-8 Jalan Low Yat, Batu Ferringhi, 11100, Penang. (The Penang Bookshelf's entire inventory is available for browsing. Please call to fix an appointment.)  
Mailing Address: 36, Cheeseman Road, 11600 Penang, Malaysia

Registered Business No: PG0282219-D

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The Penang Bookshelf | 36 Cheeseman Road | Penang | 11600 | Malaysia

Friday 27 September 2013

A Triography - A Review of Three Biographies

Random Reviews 8-10


A Review of Three Biographies

(PB) (SNP Publishing, Singapore, 2008. ISBN: 9789812481863)
(PB) (Irenic Publications, Duranbah, NSW, Australia, 2012. ISBN: 9780646579092)
(PB) (Marshall Cavendish, Singapore, 2013. ISBN: 9789814408202)

 **The Penang Bookshelf has two main websites, one for shipping within Malaysia and the other for shipping elsewhere. If you live in Malaysia, please click on the link attached to the book title. If you live elsewhere, please click on the (PB) link which follows each book's title. **


It so happened that my random reading list consisted of three easily readable biographies.  So I’ll attempt to review all three of them at once. All of them are light quick reads and all of them are entertaining, but that doesn’t mean that they’re without depth.

I'll start by declaring an interest and a disinterest. I have met all three authors, but they're more acquaintances than friends. Also I’m not a reader of biographies or autobiographies by choice. Now that I’ve read three of them so close together I know why. The words of TS Eliot come to mind – ‘human kind cannot bear very much reality.’ I’ve come to the conclusion that biographies can often be frustrating as, for one reason or another, they seldom give a full enough picture for the inquisitive reader.

Brinsmead’s biography of Dr Sam Underwood came nearest to satisfying me, i.e. I ended up with fewer questions at the end. This was quite a feat since, like the other two works, it’s  a relatively slim volume. Underwood’s definitely one of Malaysia’s unsung heroes. (Most people I have spoken to had never heard of him.) Normally this would qualify him for a hagiography. However his biographer mostly avoids this trap. He’s equally happy to deal with his subject’s unhappy love life and his gullibility when it comes to investment as he is with dealing with Dr Underwood’s significant successes. 

However, like No Bed of Roses, Brinsmead’s biography contains a considerable amount of padding. In the case of Laugh and Tough it Out, the padding comes in the form of jokes which Underwood sent Brinsmead in the course of a twenty year correspondence. I laughed or at least chuckled at most of them. It’s a clever technique of giving the reader a hint at the humour which has sustained a man who was sentenced to death by the Japanese, later worked with them, then was hunted by the Communists as a collaborator and ended up being one of their few trusted sources of medical help in the ‘Emergency.’

In the case of No Bed of Roses, the padding, roughly 179 pages of a 279 page book, comes in the form of recipes for Rose Chan’s favourite foods, some of which are meant to be aphrodisiacs, and long chunks of imagined dialogue, in the style of Roddy Doyle, illustrating various events in her life. Rajendra captures Malaysian English well and in a saucy rambunctious fashion, but in the end I found myself skim reading some of the later sections. I felt the book would have benefitted from fewer of such sections which could have been replaced by more succinct passages of prose. If you’re a foodie, which I’m not, the recipes may serve the same role as Underwood’s jokes. Cooking and food were obviously very important in Rose Chan’s life, so this could be a way of illustrating an aspect of her character.

All three of the authors have distinctive styles, Brinsmead’s is a well controlled and a no nonsense one and, as befits a published poet, Rajendra’s is certainly the most flowery of all three, but not oppressively so. Winston Lim’s style, especially considering that this was his first published book, best conveys the gentle ribbing relationship between author and subject. All three biographies had the co-operation of their subjects, but in Lim’s case the author intrudes more than do Brinsmead and Rajendra. This is appropriate because Car, Castello & Quill, besides giving one an insight into Raymond Flower’s life, also charts the changing relationship between author and subject. Flower’s a VIP  at the hotel where Lim worked in guest relations, but as the book progresses, a friendship imperceptibly develops even though Lim finds it hard to drop the respectful, “Mr Flower” as his form of address.

In fact, Lim’s biography which includes an account of how Flower tutored him to start writing, is the most gentle, even genteel, of all three biographies. Both author an subject are gentlemen which is conveyed by Lim’s relaxed and unobtrusively polished style. Flower is one of a dying breed of cosmopolitan Englishmen, who seem to glide effortlessly from running car businesses in England and Egypt, racing cars in Europe, dealing in and enjoying property in Italy and holidaying in Penang to writing best selling non-fiction including one of The Penang Bookshelf’s Bestsellers, (PB) , The Penang Adventure. (PB) Rose Chan and Sam Underwood appear to have seen more of the rough and tumble of life.

In contrast to the biography of Flower, where nothing shocks the gentle flow, both Laugh and Tough it Out and No Bed of Roses have plenty of drama and not a few shocks as well. The centrepiece of No Bed of Roses is undoubtedly Rajendra’s  erotic description of the bawdy party organised by Rose Chan to raise funds for UMNO, Malaysia’s the ruling party, at the time of Malaysian Independence. It’s described in meticulous detail with a few of Rajendra’s poetic frills. In Laugh and Tough It Out the two chapters on Underwood’s views about Malaysia’s politics and about religion generally may well be the most startling. None of it hasn’t been said before, but because Brinsmead deftly steps aside and allows his subject to do the talking, we get a better glimpse of the passion that drives this remarkable man.

Indeed it was passion, or rather the absence of it, that was the main unanswered question in all three biographies. If I can’t get to grips with what drives a person, I find it difficult to understand them. In the case of Car, Castello & Quill, I had the most questions. However I don’t think Winston Lim intended to ask such questions in a book which is primarily a narration of a relationship with biographical frills. It never claims to be more than that. Nevertheless I was left wanting to know more about how Flower supported his lifestyle and who were his intimates. He hasn’t ever married, so with whom does he really share his deepest thoughts and emotions? Maybe there isn’t anyone.

As for Rose Chan, she was obviously a consummate artist at titillating men, but what on earth titillated her?  She had five husbands and scores of lovers, but No Bed of Roses hardly gives us any hint of those relationships. Maybe her consuming passion was food. That’s why the book has so many recipes.

With Sam Underwood one assumes that it’s mainly his work for the community that drives him. He was the first foreign trained plastic surgeon in the country, once ran the largest private medical clinic here and is more qualified and experienced than most medics in Malaysia who make far more money. Yet he devotes himself to the community around Kuala Kangsar in Perak in relative obscurity. That said, there must be something else in his life other than providing scholarships for the underprivileged to study overseas.

So all three biographies have something to recommend them. If you're a reader of biographies, I would recommend all three. Their contrasting styles and the devices the authors use to engage their subjects, may help should give you an instructive insight into this form of writing. If you're looking for a good story, with chuckles on the side, I'd choose Laugh and Tough it Out. If you're looking for an amusing and charming read, try Car, Catello & Quill. If you're looking for a glimpse of bawdy Malaysia just before and after Independence, choose No Bed of Roses.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

New Arrivals in September - Offers!!!

New Arrivals in September


As of 30th October 2013
(Updated Constantly)

Listed below are books which have arrived at The Penang Bookshelf recently.  (All prices are post free within Malaysia. If you live outside Malaysia, please ask for a quote for postage.)

Prices are shown in Malaysian Ringgit in blue. Sometimes The Penang Bookshelf can offer some of the titles at a reduced price if they are ordered and paid for while they remain on the list. (If the offer disappears, it's because the book is now advertised generally on The Penang Bookshelf's websites.)  The discounted price is indiciated in red.  Books sold will be so marked. So if you want to order any of them or want further details of any of the books before you make up your mind, do contact me at

If you see a book's title in  bold blue, it means the book is already on a Penang Bookshelf website. In such cases please click on the title to be taken to the relevant page of the website for more details. If the bold blue highlighted title is followed by the acronymn (TPW) it means the title is already on a third party website where The Penang Bookshelf advertises. The price will be higher than quoted here to take account of external fees and commissions. However by contacting The Penang Bookshelf direct, you can buy the book at the price quoted on this blog.

**Please note** The Penang Bookshelf operates two websites, one for shipping within Malaysia and the other for shipping elsewhere. If you live in Malaysia please click on the link attached to the book title. If you live elsewhere, please click on the (PB) link which follows each book's title. 

The books are all used unless indicated otherwise. Abbreviations used are A = Acceptable, DJ = Dust Jacket, EL = Ex-library, F = Fine/AsNew, G = Good,  HB = Hardback, LB = Leatherbound, N = New, NF = Near Fine, PB = Paperback, SG = Author Signed Copy and VG = Very Good

  • A Handbook of Malay Script - MB Lewis (Macmillan & Co, 1954) HB DJ VG RM480SOLD

  • A History of Malaya - RO Winstedt (Marican & Sons, 1988) PB G  RM160 SOLD
  • A Research Guide to China-Coast Newspapers, 1882-1911 - Frank HH King & Prescott Clarke (PB) (Harvard University Press, 1965) PB VG RM220
  • A Simple But Complete Grammar of the Malay Language - James Pearce  (PB) (Malaya Publishing House 1960) HB G EL RM150 SOLD
  • A Vocabulary of Malay Medical Terms - PN Gerrard (Kelly & Walsh, 1905) G HB RM300/RM250 SOLD
  • British Malaya: An Account of the Origin and Progress of British Influence in Malaya - Frank Swettenham (George Allen, 1955) HB DJ G  RM250 SOLD
  • British Relations with The Malay Rulers from Decentralization to Malayan Independence, 1930-1957 - Simon Smith (PB)  (Oxford University Press, 1995 ISBN: 9789676530899) HB DJ NF RM250 1 copy SOLD, but 1 remaining
  • Cameos of The Old Federated Malay States and Straits Settlements, 1912-1924 - Clifton Wright (Arthur H. Stockwell, 1972) HB DJ VG  RM270 SOLD
  • Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Survey of Triad Society from 1800 to 1900 - Leon Comber (Donald Moore, 1959) PB G RM200/RM180 SOLD
  • Chinese Society in Nineteenth Century Singapore - Lee Poh Ping (PB) (Oxford University Press, 1978 ISBN: 0195803841) HB G EL  RM240
  • Costumes of India and Pakistan - SN Dar (DP Taraporevala & Co, 1969) HB DJ VG RM230

  • Costumes of Malaya - Katharine Sim (Donald Moore, 1963) (2 copies) PB VG  RM190 each 1 copy SOLD and 1 remaining
  • Ethnic Relations in Kelantan: A Study of The Chinese and Thai as Ethnic Minorities in a Malay State - Robert L. Winzeler (Oxford University Press, 1985  ISBN: 0195826183) HB VG RM210 SOLD
  • Folktales of Northeastern Thai Children -(TPW) Prasit Khruasing (Office of the National Culture Commission) PB G EL RM160
  • Guide to Kuala Lumpur, The Federal Capital - Aristide Papineau (Papineau Advertising, July 1963) PB VG RM500/RM450  SOLD
  • Illustrated Guide to The Federated Malay States - Cuthbert Woodville Harrison (Malay States Information Agency, 1919) HB VG   RM350/RM300 SOLD
  • Indian Alchemy or Rasayana in the Light of Asceticism and Geriatrics - S.Mahdihassan (Motilal Banarsidas, 2002. ISBN:812080788x) PB F RM30
  • Islam and the Malay-Indonesian Word: Transmission and Responses - Peter Riddell (Horizon. ISBN: 9789810445638) PB N RM50 1 copy SOLD and 3 copies remaining
  • Malaysian Place-Names: Chinese-Malay  -Nancy Lim and Stephen Fitzgerald (Australian National University, 1977 ISBN: 090959614X) PB G  RM250
  • Missionary Sketches: Missionary Station at Pinang, 1830 (Dennet, 1830) PB (Pamphlet) A RM150 SOLD
  • Modern Biotechnology: Malaysian Perspective - Latifah Amin ( University of Malaya Press, 2013 ISBN:9789831006207) PB N RM40
  • Post-Mortem on Malaya - Virginia Thompson  (PB) (Macmillan & Co, 1943) HB G  RM140 SOLD
  • Singapore Diary: The Hidden Journal of Captain RM Horner (Spellmount, 2007) PB VG RM40 SOLD
  • Singapore: Ideology, Society, Culture - John R Clammer (Chompen, 1985 ISBN: 997168117X) HB G EL RM270
  • Suharto: Indonesia's Last Sultan - Keith Loveard (Horizon, 2008 ISBN: 9789810414788)  PB N RM60 1 copy SOLD and 2 remaining
  • The Casuarina Tree - Somerset Maugham (George H Doran Company, 1926) HB G
  • The City in the Village: The In-Situ Urbanization of Villages, Villagers and Their Land Around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Harold Brookfield, Abdul Samad Hadi & Zaharah Mahmud (Oxford University Press, 1991 ISBN: 0195889762) HB G EL RM60 SOLD
  • The Eurasian Cookbook - Mary Gmoes (Horizon Books, 2009 ISBN: 9789810443443) PB N RM70 1 copy SOLD and 2 remaining
  • The Legacy of Mardec: Origin, Development and Contributions to the Natural Rubber Industry - Jeyraj C. Rajarao (University fo Malaya Press, 2013 ISBN: 9789831005859) PB N RM90 SOLD but re-stocking

  • The Communist Struggle in Malaya - Gene Z. Hanrahan with an Introduction by Victor Purcell (Institute of Pacific Relations, 1954) PB G EL RM600/RM540 SOLD
  • The Folk-Lore of China and its Affinities with That of the Aryan and Semetic Races - NB Dennys (Trubner & Co, 1876) HB G EL RM300 SOLD
  • The Malay House: Rediscovering Malaysia's Indigenous Shelter System - Lim Jee Yuan  (PB) (Institut Masyarakat, 1991. ISBN: 9679966054) HB DJ VG RM250/RM230 SOLD
  • The Malay Kingdom of Patani - Ibrahim Syukri (Silkworm Books, 2005) PB N RM60 1 copy sold and 3 remaining
  • The Wisdom of Gandhi - (Manjul, 2004 ISBN: 9788186775707) PB N RM30 
more to follow...