Interview by Justin Long
Photography by Yang Tan
Situated close to the Peranakan Museum in Armenian Street, Select Books is one of the oldest English-language bookstores in Southeast Asia. Founded close to 40 years ago, the cosy bookstore has acquired a remarkable reputation as an intellectual oasis within the region over the years.
Fortunately, when the original founders were about to retire due to old age in 2004, Dan and his friends were here to continue the long heritage of this “institution” that many have come to love. Since then, they have consistently delivered quality service and great books, maintaining the relationship with old customers and charming new ones. We speak to Dan, the undeniably helpful bookkeeper on his personal passion for books and what it means to keep a bookstore running for so long.
Hi Dan, please tell us about yourself. Where are you from and what is your personal background?
I am one of the three owners of Select Books and I also run an award-winning software development and translation company at the same time. I guess you can say that my life revolves around language, whether it’s human or computer language.
Why set up Select Books at Armenian Street?
Armenian Street has historically been associated with books. It hosted at least three major bookshops or libraries about a hundred years ago and our first National Library, now demolished, was just a stone’s throw away. We are in the very heart of Singapore’s heritage and cultural precinct. Select Books is located in a historical building that was the original site of the United Chinese Library opened by Dr Sun Yat Sen (the founder of modern China) more than a century ago, when he visited the region to raise funds for his revolution.
What kind of books do you enjoy?
I love books that spur us to see the world in a different light, whether this involves interpersonal relationships, the human condition or how our society is structured and run.
And who are your authors of choice and why?
Pramoedya Ananta Toer from Indonesia is a wonderful writer who writes about his country and humanity with unparallelled power and beauty and without fear. From Singapore, I have a deep and abiding love for the works of the late Kuo Pao Kun, whether these be his plays, his commentaries or his letters. He is not well-known outside Singapore but I feel he is on par with the greatest world literary figures of the last century in writing about the contradictions and struggles of being human in the modern world.
Read more in The U Press N˚3 (Singapore edition).