Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I desire- good bookstores

This bookstore review by Jonathan in China reminded me just how much I miss good bookstores. They don't really exist in South Africa. In Cape Town we have a couple of good bookstores, there is the Book Lounge on Roeland Street and Clarke's on Long. Both are owned and managed by people who clearly love a good book. But those are the exceptions and both are pretty small.

Then there is Exclusive Books, a countrywide retail bookstore chain, but there is nothing Exclusive about them. Their biggest store is still the size of a large open-plan living room and the book selections are never that great. And their gay and lesbian section (if the store even has one) is always grouped with hetero sex advice, meaning together with one or two dull homosexual romance novels there are loads of books explaining to straight people how to get off.

To make matters worse books in South Africa are ridiculously expensive. Ridiculously. Not exaggerating. We were looking at a Borneo guide book here and then compared the price to ordering from Amazon and having it shipped here. It was still more than US$10 less than buying it here. A friend explained it's because South Africa taxes books as a luxury item. WTF? We're a country with terribly high illiteracy levels and books are considered a luxury?

Why is it that in the giant bookstores in countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia you can find bigger English language books than in South Africa, and at better prices? Not fair.

I am looking forward to going back East and visiting Kinokuniya in Bangkok and Page One in Taipei, but sad about the fact that my friends here will still have to deal with pricey reading material from Exclusive Books.

* The image is from the blog Stephanie's Written Word, entry titled Vacation Spots.

3 comments:

Jonathan said...

Craziness! The whole world needs large bookstores filled with great books sold by people with a passion for the written word. Books should never rest solely in the category of luxury items, not anymore at least.

While I grumble about the lack of amazing English language bookstores in China this country seemingly has more love for books than anywhere else I've ever been and I am from the most book-loving part of the United States: Boston. I'm sorry to hear about South Africa. Doesn't Capetown have libraries though?

Speaking of bookstores in Asia, I was really satisfied with the offerings in Bangkok. Was that your experience too?

Bordeaux said...

You know what, I totally forget about libraries. Which is unfortunate because now that you mention it I believe there are quite a few around town. Agreed on Bangkok's bookstores, plentiful and many with really good selections. Also a couple of fun second-hand bookstores there. I miss it.

Jeanne said...

Ha - you should have tired growing up in PE ;-) Exclusive Books' opening was so hotly anticipated it wasn't funny... I agree that taxing books the way they are taxed in SA is total insanity. You will never foster a culture of reading by pricing books out of the reach of most families.

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