Interview by Justin Long
Photography by Yang Tan
Enter BooksActually and you can’t miss Kenny Leck. Dressed in his customary white T-shirt and bermudas, he is the bad boy celebrity bookkeeper who is unafraid to speak his mind. Located now in Tiong Bahru, alongside a current buffet of gourmet cafés, bakeries and new lifestyle businesses, BooksActually is the city’s answer to the local independent bookstore, with a thoughtful collection of non-fiction and literature titles, including obscure and out-of-print editions, all fondly handpicked by Kenny and his team.
Please tell us about yourself. What’s your story?
I was born in 1978 in Singapore, and the only things I always wanted to do were to run a business, read books, watch Hong Kong movies, and eat home-cooked meals. I am a bookseller by profession and was working in the industry, in Tower Books and Borders to be specific, before founding BooksActually in 2005.
So how did BooksActually come about?
It came from a deep love for books. And it is in my blood to run a business. It could have been a supermarket or a kopitiam, but books were my first calling. Before running BooksActually, we did book bazaars in the universities and schools in late 2004.
Who are your authors of choice, and why?
My author of choice is known as a writer of fiction, George Orwell. Many are unaware that he is also a great essayist. He authored a huge volume of essays and newspaper columns, commenting on the social ills and norms of his day. Through his critical eye and analytical words, you can see the underbelly of the 20th century and understand that not everything is as it seems.
How do you select the books?
They are the books we would like to see on our own bookshelves, and read if we ever have the time to do so.
With the books that you carry, what sort of reading culture do you hope to create?
An appetite not just for books that increase wealth or happiness, but for books that are sad and challenging in their presented scope. These books might increase one’s empathy for challenges faced by other people.
Read more in The U Press N˚1 (Singapore edition).