Reading Culture

My eclectic taste in books run from Beano to Robert
James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County
Cultivating a reading culture

Since I was a child, I observed my dad reading the daily newspapers and his subscriptions of Life magazine and Reader’s Digest.   At first, I started looking at the pictures and enjoyed the full-colour quality prints in Life and gradually progressed to reading the shortest columns in Reader’s Digest like Laughter – the Best Medicine and Humour in Uniform.  I also enjoyed trying to improve my vocabulary by taking the challenge in the Word Power page.    

Dad could spend his leisure hours quietly reading and I realised that much pleasure can be derived from it.  Close to my birthday in 1969, we had a family shopping trip and in a book store, dad said I could pick a book of my choice as his gift.  And from the countless books in the store, I zeroed in on a glossy hardcover ‘bumper’ issue of the Beano Annual!

Wall-to-wall second-hand books for sale
in Chowrasta Market, Penang
I was thrilled to have a book of my own but letting mum wrap it up – only to be opened on my birthday – put quite a damper on my excitement.  It may not have been intellectual or inspirational but at that time, the Beano was my heart’s desire.  When I finally tore off the wrapping paper on my birthday, I read and re-read the adventures and antics of well-loved characters like the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minne the Minx, Biffo the Bear, Billy Whizz, Roger Dodger and Gnasher, and Lord Snooty, among others.

Long before there were animated TV cartoon characters, my imagination helped me understand the sequence of the story as I read the dialogue bubbles next to illustrations in the comic strips.  They may only be cartoon characters but I could relate to them and easily identified with their pains and perils.  Till today, I can fondly remember weird and nerdy characters among the Bash Street Kids like Spotty, Fatty, Smiffy, Cuthbert and especially, Plug!

Snow White & Rose Red was the first fairytale storybook I received for Christmas from Auntie Annie and since then I started reading books with fewer pictures.  As my sisters were already into reading Enid Blyton books – Secret Seven, Five Find-outers’ mysteries, Famous Five and the Malory Towers school series – I joined them in devouring book after book during the holidays.  Colourful characters like the bumbling Mr Goon and his nemesis, Frederick Algernon “Fatty” Trotteville – a master of disguise, and spoilt Gwendoline and her indulgent mother, became juicy topics our of conversation.

In secondary school, I was introduced to the Bard in Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare – a simplified version of William Shakespeare’s plays and I went on to study books like Hamlet, E. M. Forster’s A Room With A View, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  As I enjoyed the serious side of Literary Appreciation, I cannot forget the thrill of meeting the single, rich and suave Mr Darcy!

Johor Baru's iconic Bombay Book Centre closed down
shortly after its move to Skudai
When reading was for passing exams, it became rather tedious but I still enjoyed the stories and often could not wait for the next lesson but read ahead to find out, for instance, what happened next with Pip, proud Estella and cranky old Miss Havisham.  At this time, I remember how avid readers in our class used to exchange stacks of well-thumbed romance paperbacks even though it was strictly prohibited in school.  As a late-starter, I had yet to discover the genre of Mills & Boon books but I knew that they were super un-put-down-able because even the prefects were reading them in class – behind their open Geography books! 

While my eldest sister was working, she enjoyed a healthy diet of Women’s Weekly Library romances, mostly exchanged from the second-hand book dealer located at No. 6 Jalan Trus.  The Bombay Book Centre was filled with dusty used books and was a popular destination not only for leisure readers but also students and professionals for their stock of rare reference books.  This iconic shop in the heart of old JB, has close to a 100-year old history but after its relocation to Skudai, the business did not stay open for long.

The new Children's Collection section in the Johor
Baru Public Library at Jalan Yahya Awal
My friend Gerard confessed that his passion for Han Suyin’s work was reignited recently but was disappointed that he could not find any good second-hand book stores in JB for his search of her classics.  It made us wonder if this was an indication that people in JB do not have a healthy reading habit.  So I pointed him to my pre-loved books havens in Chowrasta Market, Penang and Bras Basah, Singapore, as well as in Malacca and Ipoh, where they are stocked wall-to-wall with second-hand books!

Meanwhile my dad and I have been active members with JB’s two public libraries – borrowing books, first from the one at Jalan Datin Halimah and now from the other at Jalan Yahya Awal.  It is interesting that the latter recently added a spanking new section, filled with books for young readers, that was officially launched by the Johor Menteri Besar Dato’ Abdul Ghani Othman on 18 October.  This augurs well for JB’s reading public and I hope parents will make full use of this facility to inculcate a reading habit because reading will fire their children’s imagination and open new horizons that will enrich their lives.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 22 October 2012


  1. Hi Ms. Peggy, I'm interested in 2nd hand books as well and found your post fascinating.

    If it's not too much trouble, could you let me know the address of the used book shop in Melaka? I would like to visit and have a look at the books they have.


  2. Hey Avatar, In Malacca, I visit the Salvation Army Thrift Shop in Melaka Raya, for second hand books. The last time I browsed around Melaka Raya, I found two more shops with pre-owned books but I was so distracted by the books that I did not look at the shops' names. Hope this info is helpful. Happy Reading!

  3. Thanks Ms. Peggy. I'll definitely keep a lookout for these used book shops in Melaka Raya. It should be fun :)