Thursday, 5 January 2017

The best bookstores in KL

E-books may be taking over the world, but brick-and-mortar bookstores will always be special because you can never replace the joy of a paperback in your backpack. Live vicariously through your favourite characters at these best bookstores in the city. 

Cite Book Garden

Cite (magazine publisher, champion of local and Singaporean writers, and the biggest Chinese online bookstore in the country) opened a physical bookstore in the form of Cite Book Garden, a small store designed for bibliophiles to relax and browse at length. The book garden features actual plants by way of hanging potted ferns by the window, a few chairs where readers can sit and read, a wall displaying the magazines they publish (ranging from fashion glossies like Vivi to the Chinese edition of National Geographic), a wide selection of titles from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China, and even a small café (they once offered coffee workshops partnering with Exhibit Café from TTDI). The second floor houses an event space for readings, talks, activities for kids, and more.

I Am Lejen

Lejen Press's bookshop – and boutique, as it carries hoodies and T-shirts – brims with Malay literature, fiction or otherwise, by local independent presses. Your afternoon book-browsing will include titles by Lejen Press (of ‘Awek Chuck Taylor’ fame and ‘Rosmoh: Perempuan Puaka’ controversy, as well as reprints of A Samad Said’s ‘Salina’ and ‘Langit Petang’), and also books by big names Buku Fixi, DuBook Press and Sang Freud Press, along with smaller publishers Obscura Malaysia and Poket Press.

Projek Rabak

The folks of Project Rabak – musicians, writers, painters, poets, filmmakers and even mime artists – are certainly non-conformists, and you only have to look at Rabak-Lit, the publishing arm of Project Rabak. Here, the Malay language is featured in its freest form, appearing in alternative titles such as ‘Rawsak’, ‘Protopunk’ and ‘Bla Bla Bla’. All these, as well as other selections from DuBook Press and Sang Freud Press, can be found at their gallery in Wisma Sentral; the books by Rabak-Lit are cheaper if you purchase them there too. Projek Rabak also hosts their week-long Kreative festival annually in Ipoh – remember to check it out if you’re ever there.


Silverfish Books

This neighbourhood book-boutique has been stocking more than a decade’s worth of rare titles. The independent store features a well-edited mix of literature, classics as well as an offbeat local lineup so it’s not unusual to see a copy of ‘Allah Controversy’ next to contemporary names like Tash Aw and M Bakri Musa. Silverfish is also one of the leading publishers of Malaysian writing in English, and they regularly hold discussions for writers to ruminate about literature and their respective works. If you can’t find that famous out-of-print ‘The Other Malaysia’ by Farish Noor in mainstream bookstores, you’ll have better luck here (or they’ll order it for you).


The Other Bookstore

Skip the big Borders one floor down and head up to the Other Bookstore. The walls are lined with dark shelves holding glossy hardback books on art, advertising and design. It’s very cool - the kind of cool that is often intimidating, but thankfully there are no doors and the sales assistants are a little slow on the uptake.

You’ve got to be a fairly specific type of person to get excited here - typography books abound, for example - but if you get it, you get it. Art and design students will wet themselves. With books on intelligent design, graphics, how to think up letterheads and logos, it’s not confined just to those beautiful and expensive ‘inspiration’ books that flog you loads of pages of gorgeous images. The fashion section is a tightly curated section that is a beauty to behold - there are books on young designers and old designers, but equally there are manuals on how to design (what a useless endeavour) and dress patterns.

Be prepared to drop a fair amount of cash here - there aren’t many items under RM100.

Kinokuniya Book Store

Popular with bookworms, Kinokuniya offers a large selection of books catering to almost every type of reader here. It's rare that you can't get the book you want, but the efficient staff is always on hand to assist with orders. With two floors, the upper level is specifically dedicated to art and design books and magazines, with a cosy cafe in the corner too.

Book Xcess

Book-lovers and bargain-hunters are all familiar with Book Xcess, the bookstore that undercuts all the major chains and brings forth hordes of readers every year with its Big Bad Wolf sale. It’s not the prettiest store, and stock can be unpredictable, but you’ll find fiction, hardbacks, reference works, children’s books and even games for at least 50 percent off (and sometimes up to 90 percent).


Against all odds, Gerakbudaya continues to thrive. Pak Chong’s bookstore isn’t just a bookstore, but a cherished community hub, a creative borough packed with a solid, wellcurated selection of books by local and regional authors with a slant towards social sciences and Southeast Asian studies. Gerakbudaya – literally ‘movement of cultures’ – is the gathering spot of choice for the informed and the intellectuals; it frequently plays host to forums and stimulating discussions.

Kedai Fixi

Local indie publisher Fixi finally opens its own brick and mortar store, so if you’ve missed their festival rounds, just head over to Jaya Shopping Centre. After scouting around for possible locations, the guys decided on Jaya Shopping Centre as it signifies the Fixi spirit – in that Jaya Shopping Centre is both old and new. Keeping the whole ‘support local’ spirit alive, you can also find other local publishers here such as DuBook Press, Lejen Press and graphic novel publisher Maple Comics. Look forward to launches and other book-related parties happening at the store in the future. 

The KL Commercial Press

This small bookstore on Jalan Sultan is one of the last booksellers in the area. Patrons have been flocking here for over 60 years for Mandarin books, translated tomes, calligraphy tools, hand-drawn postcards and illustrated travel books. Don’t miss the extensive children’s section, as well as the English titles published in Malaysia and Singapore.

Dubook Press

Mutalib Uthman’s DuBook Press opened up a brick-and-mortar storefront in Bangi last year, a space peddling not just the press’s books, but also stocking titles by comrade-in-arms local independent publishers such as Buku Fixi, Merpati Jingga and Rabak-Lit. What to expect: slim, gritty non-fiction Malay volumes by mostly first-time authors peppered with provocative content, bahasa pasar and a sprinkling of profanities – the lingo of the youth.


Sure, one of the city’s beloved independent children’s publishers is a bit dog-eared, having operated since 2007 and published over 100 titles. But this small shop, tucked away in an obscure corner of the Bangsar Puteri condominium, proffers some of the most covetable picture books including illustrations by Jainal Amambing, Awang Fadilah, Emila Yusof and Khairul Azmir Shoib. Thanks to Oyez!, many local works have been translated overseas after gaining exposure in international fairs such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair; foreign books, likewise, have also been translated for the Malaysian crowd. You can find most of Oyez!’s titles in Silverfish Books, but if you’re seeking the latest, go straight to the source at Oyez!.

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