I read recently, in the magazine supplement of our weekend paper that books are back. Great. So are mine. Back on their shelves after a five-year, earthquake-enforced slumber. In fact I had just lifted the last box of them from our basement that very weekend. But what, if anything, did it mean to have books back. That finally, normal transmission had been resumed? It certainly felt that way to me. For the record, my books are like family—entertaining and exasperating in equal measure—but they’ve always been there even if I’m distracted and forget to stay in touch. So perhaps it is us, rather than books, that are back. Back in touch with print culture and the tangible trafficking in books. Because, according to the story I was reading, across New Zealand independent booksellers, both established and fledgling, are happily holding their own, amid a culture still awash and in thrall, with all things digital.
As if this news alone might not convince me, Ali, waving her latest issue of Next magazine in my general direction, called out “take a look at this, they’ve got a book-vending machine in Singapore.” And so I also read that earlier this year, not one but two book-vending machines had materialised in the city. Although apparently common in Japan, the book vending machines are a first for Singapore. Inspired by Allen Lane’s 1937 Penguincubator, Kenny Leck, owner of BooksActually, installed the two S$9,900 machines—a third is in the pipeline—with a Capability Development grant from Spring Singapore. Each book vending machine houses between 150-200 books—with an emphasis on Singaporean writers—and thanks to a collaboration with local artists and illustrators, each machine wears its own metaphorical dust jacket. One resides at the National Museum, the other you’ll find on Orchard Rd at the Visitor Centre and the Goodman Arts Centre will be home to the third. But, not unlike a mobile library, the book vending machines will be peripatetic, moving location around Singapore every three months.
On my desk is one of my favourite New Yorker covers, Shelved by Roz Chast. It shows a solitary figure—perhaps you, perhaps me—hooked up to our modern day life support systems, yet all the while unconscious of the life in books that surround us. Maybe we’re finally waking up.