Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

On Book Stores

So I went to the book store yesterday.  I was hoping to pick up a book for my son, so I stopped off in a Barnes & Noble book retail shop.  I’ve always liked Barnes & Noble because they have always had a decent collection of books and magazines.  I don’t often go to book stores, truthfully, because I have a stack of books I still need to work my way through.  Also, most of the books for my profession that I purchase are not available in retail stores.  As such, it has been quite awhile since I just browsed a book store.  The last time I did that probably in 2009 at  Junkudo in Shinjuku.

How things have changed at Barns & Noble!

The first thing I noticed was the large in-store Starbucks.  Back in 2003 the cafe would be just as packed, but no one would be buried in a laptop.  Almost everyone would be browsing a set of books or magazines.  The next large area that caught my eyes was the magazine rack.  It occupied an entire wall of the store, and the various collections of magazines was impressive.  No matter what your hobbies are, you’re likely to find at least one magazine to fit your interests.  There are still not as many publications as one would find in Japan though.  I suspect the reasons are 1) culture, and 2) lifestyle.  I won’t get into the culture aspect here, but when you use public transportation you certainly have more time to read.

The other two large sections were the children’s section and the audio/video section.  The center of the store was stocked with books and there are a fair number of books even in this day of declining paper book publishing.

I moved into the children’s section, and too my surprise, there were relatively few books.  There were more puzzles, DVDs and games than books.  I am going to have to give the local library a try for books for Liam.  There are a few I’d like to buy, but otherwise the library probably has a better selection.  I was specifically looking for Paddington Bear, but I could not find a single book.  I asked a clerk and she chuckled, and starting searching only to prove her assumption right: not in stock.  I asked her what’s the deal was and she said kids today prefer Disney.  How sad!  Disney has nothing on Padding Bear, Curious George, and Babar.  For older kids, there were a lot of “graphical novels”, or in other words, manga (漫画), Japanese-style comic books, translated into English of course.  I did not expect that.

The most shocking section was the audio and video section.  7 years ago one would primarily find music, with around 50% dedicated to classical, jazz and world music.  They had some pop music, but by and large you’d go to a shopping mall record store to get pop music.  In 2011, over 50% is DVDs and Blue-Ray discs.  There were more audio books than classical, jazz and world music combined.  In fact, there were more movie soundtracks than classic music CDs.  The majority of the music CDs were actually pop music.

The lack of classical, jazz and world music was most shocking.  In the past, the only place I knew where to purchase these genres of music was at Barnes & Noble.  This seems to no longer be an option, however.  I was looking for some Bach harpsichord recordings, but the majority of the Bach CDs were new-age collections with titles like “Back for Meditation”.  I suppose that the only place to get such music is online via specialized music shops or through iTunes.

After getting over the shock at how much things have changed, I’ve realized that I don’t really need to go into such book stores anymore.  I will not find what I’m looking for, and be told to order on the Internet, so count me in as one of those responsible for the death of the traditional North American book store.  In North America, in the end, I suppose bookstores will only thrive as specialty book stores in dense urban areas, such as literature and political themed shops in Washington DC and technical-oriented shops in Silicon Valley.  Book stores that organize community events such as discussion groups and readings will also thrive.  Another plus to urban living…one day we’ll get there.

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The Fall of Empire

I just finished reading an excellent book, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire.  I’ve been having to take the train quite a bit and I finished the entire 550 pages in about a month while on the train only.  This book is published by Penguin, which means that its dirt cheap but a great book.  I think it only cost 1500 yen as an import book here in Japan, and the list price seems to be about US$13 in North America.

The book covers the independence of India, Burma, and the events leading to Malaysia and Singapore’s eventual indepence (though it came later than India and Burma).  This book starts with the fall of the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Burma.  It covers the years 1945 though 1950 very thorougly, and then briefly touches on what would happen in French Indo-China, Dutch Indonesia and then Malaya and Burma.  The book covers all of the major characters of the time:  Mountbatten, Dorman-Smith, Atlee, Nehru, Aung San, Nu, Lai Teck, Chin Peng and many more.  I particularly find it amazing that Mountbatten survied the independence movements of the Asian Empire, but was eventually taken out by the notorious IRA late in his life.  Reading about the deceptions of Lai Teck alone makes the book a great story of espionage as well.

I have to say it was also interesting to read about what happened to the Japanese after the war.  Even in 1947 many were laboring away on the reconstruction of British infrastructure because Tokyo could not afford to send air or sea transport to bring their POWs back home.

The reason I recommend the book to North Americans is that it sets the scene and leads right into the Korean War and the start of US intervention in French Indo-China.  It really prepares a solid background for a good read into the conflict on the Korean Peninsula and the CIA’s early activities in Vietnam.  I think next I’m going to have to pick up some reading on what happened with Malaya and how it became split into Singapore and Malaysia.  I am also interested in reading more about Ho Chi Minh, the CIA in Vietnam and the People’s Repulic of China and their activities in and out of Hanoi.

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