BooksActually is the authentic Singapore bookstore

The cultural treasures scattered around Singapore are often overshadowed by the modern, industrialized aspects of the expat metropolitan. If you look hard enough though, the authentic, artistic elements of the city will emerge – and BooksActually is one of them.

In Tiong Bahru, a humble neighborhood that is now rising to be one of the more popular areas to spend time,  you will find a cozy but lively bookstore. BooksActually has its own charm surrounded by cafes and shophouses.

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Photo by Diya Navlakha

The store is run by Kenny Leck, a local Singaporean. Initially the co-founder, he is now the sole owner. Mr. Leck said, “I had grown up surrounded with books, with weekly trips to the library at Toa Payoh. And as I grew older, I started buying books of my own choice with my pocket money. After NS, I started working at a retail chain bookstore, and after a few years there, I decided that I wanted to set up my bookselling business.”

BooksActually is known for carrying, along with literary classics, vintage works of writing that are hard to stumble upon in just any book store. While you can pick up a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” there, or maybe a nonfiction piece, what truly makes it unique are the countless ethnic literary works.

What fuels the supply of unique compositions is the publishing company attached to BooksActually, called Math Paper Press. Run by three people, the press publishes works composed by Singaporean writers on life, love, loss, and their stories.

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Works published under Math Paper Press: photo by Diya Navlakha

“Over time while running the bookstore, we have struck up a friendship with many of the local writers, and we realized that there is a lot of writing out there but hasn’t had the opportunity to be published,” Mr. Leck said. This is what drove him to start the publishing establishment.

Math Paper Press has made a significant impact on the Literary Arts sphere of Singapore. “I think the key role it plays is that it builds up for us that BooksActually represents SG Lit. If anyone wants to find a book written by a local author, we’d be the best place to go to,” Mr. Leck said.

Most pieces published by Math Paper Press embody the experiences of growing up in Singapore and experiencing life in the city. Many compositions also capture the international aspects of living in expatriate Southeast Asia.

“Most of the authors started out as friends so in that sense, we had instant access to their works. Over time, first-time writers would approach us when they know that the bookstore is a publisher as well,” Mr. Leck said.

This vintage wonderland holds more than just books, however. It is a haven for photography, stationery, music and media. It is a place for those who have an appreciation for art. Along with Math Paper Press, there is an additional branch opened by Mr. Leck, Birds & Co., which is a line of stationery.

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Photo by Diya Navlakha

What is most important about the store is that it targets people of all ages and encourages them to understand more about art and literature. It is the epitome of literary authenticity in Singapore. There is something for everyone there, and this is because of Mr. Leck’s devotion to books.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are eight years old or 80 years old, I can still easily find a fiction or lit title that one can easily read and enjoy,” Mr. Leck said. “I really can’t see myself doing anything else other than being a bookseller till the day I pass on.”

Books Actually
9 Yong Siak Street
Tiong Bahru Estate
Tel: +65 6222 9195
Mon: 11am – 6pm, Tue to Fri: 11am – 9pm
Sat: 10am – 9pm, Sun: 10am – 6pm

Author: Diya Navlakha

Diya Navlakha is a junior in her tenth year at SAS. This is her second year as a part of The Eye. While originally from India, Diya spent her childhood in New York City and Singapore. A few of her hobbies include watching "Friends", baking, and spending time with friends and family. She can be contacted at navlakha33815@sas.edu.sg.

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