Sunday, August 7, 2016

Shopping In Asia For Books In English

Yesterday I was over at my local mall, the Mall Bangkapi, here in my Bangkok neighborhood at the eastern edge of the city, slightly off the grid but still totally of the city. They have a show-space on the first floor, next to the four story waterfall that is a feature of this mall. The show rotates. Sometimes food; sometimes watches; sometimes appliances; sometimes bras; sometimes stuff for cars; sometimes toys; and sometimes books. Yesterday it was books.

The whole idea of books is a dubious concept over here, so I didn't pay much attention. I know that the displays always feature mostly graphic novels, and shortish books about famous monks, famous aristocrats, or international personalities, like Hitler. At the last minute, a display area for Asia Books caught my eye. They're the big purveyor of books in English at malls, one of the few, so I went over to take a look. They had a discount table, always good.

Right away I found a book that I wanted, and the price was right. Haruki Murakami's first two novels (both short) in a hard cover version, with a new introduction by the author about how he came to novel writing in the first place. Half price at 399 Baht (about twelve dollars). Okay, I'll take that. I glanced over the rest of the table and it was all crap, so I went over to pay.

The guy smiled and said, "two for one! Pick another one!" Well, okay, I'll invest a couple of minutes scanning this crap. Almost all of the books were in less-than-great shape, they looked like they had been in a box in the garage for ten years or so. Musty, let's say. I looked over the collection of less-than-best-sellers, obscure wanna-be bestsellers, spy shit; detective shit; mystery shit. Some bullshit history books. I was about to give up and take a book by an American comedic TV personality that would certainly not have been worth the effort to open it, when low and behold, I saw a book about the Rolling Stones.

And not just any book, it was the True Adventures of The Rolling Stones, by Stanley Booth. Original price, 595 Baht, but today marked on this discount table at 399 Baht, so I could walk away with it totally free, because it was the same price as the one that I wanted in the first place. Several hundred books on the table, and I'd found a good one. Probably the only good one! Amazing! Ross Dress For Less is like that, back in Los Angeles. You can find some nice shirts, very nice shirts, but you need to look through about a thousand shirts to find two good ones.

Mr. Booth's book is not the typical book about celebrities. He's a thinking man, and a pretty good writer. His conceit in the book is to write every sentence "as if it had been spoken by Philip Marlowe." The Raymond Chandler private detective. It is a little distracting to know that in advance, but at the same time, it kind of works. Besides, that kind of ennui suites the Rolling Stones. Maybe they are the Philip Marlowe of rock bands!

I'm a hundred pages in by this time and the book is great. Good info, well written, and fun. I'm underlining. I was a Rolling Stones fan from the get go, actually. I'd been loving the kind of American music that they covered since the late 1950s. Chuck Berry; New Orleans music; Bo Diddley! So I recognized them as brothers right away. I liked their attitude, too. Boy, I hated authority and conformity like the Jews hate Hitler (that's two Hitler mentions in one blog post!).

I'm sure that the Murakami will be great, too. I've read a half a dozen or eight of his mature novels, and it'll be interesting to see what he did with his first  two novels. If I were a Murakami reviewer on American Bandstand, I'd say, "well, I'll give it a 95%, because it's a great song, it's fun, it's an intellectual challenge, and you can dance to it." How many authors can you say that about? (Read the Wind Up Bird Chronicle to see what I'm talking about.)

So, a good day at the old fashioned book fair. Success!

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