Salaam Dear Reader,
In September of this year, the bookmarks we gave out had the message: “Think of books not as acquisitions, but as gifts”.
In our market-dominant society, we have turned almost everything into commodity: loyalty, drinking water, and even the human genome. A commodity is something we acquire or work for, but a gift is something we get that is not by our own effort, that has been produced for our benefit by the labour of the one gifting. As Margaret Atwood writes in her introduction to Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, gifts transform the soul in ways that commodities cannot.
Books have been produced by the labour of scholars, poets, authors, and journalists. Anyone who has produced a book knows that the labour, dedication, discipline involved far outstrips the dollar price on the sticker. When I spoke with Mohamed Nasim, author of The Blue Mosque of Singapore, he said that he had been working on the book for the better part of two decades. This is not atypical. In a market economy paradigm, books make no financial sense. But if you speak to authors like Mohamed Nasim, or scholars like Abdul Aziz Fredericks, or poets like Sukina Douglas, you realise that their motivations are on a different plane. Theirs is a labour of love.
But yet, books are bought and sold in bookshops. Perhaps one way to look at it is that books are gifts that masquerade as commodity. And bookshops participate in this masquerade in order to operate in the market economy, at least this is what I gleaned from Laura J. Miller’s Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption.
On top of this, the concept of gift has been some sort of a preoccupation with Wardah’s booksellers. Readers will be familiar with the evergreen phrase on Wardah’s paper sleeves, “Gratitude is the vision of the giver, not of the gift”. And on our anniversary canvas tote we have the readers’ rallying cry, “The secret gift of reading is time”. Even our premises at Bussorah Street is a space of quiet, meditative browsing and discovery that masquerades as a place of commerce. Other booksellers have come to the same conclusion, most notably Jeff Deutsch, director of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstores, who wrote about this very idea in his book In Praise of Good Bookstores.
As the year draws to a close, and we reflect on the gift of books that line our shelves, we are grateful for the labour of all writers, scholars, translators, and poets.
As is our tradition, we announce in December our Readers’ Choice Shortlist. We would like to invite you, dear reader, to vote your pick for the Readers’ Choice 2022. The poll is open from now till 18 December 2022. Results will be published on 21 Dec 2022, inshaAllah. The poll has no monetary reward, but we just like to hear from our community of readers what they feel is their choice for 2022.