web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: Cheap Books from a Supermarket
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Cheap Books from a Supermarket

When you work for yourself, you tend to be careful with money, because you'll never know when, or if, your next meal ticket will arrive. Today, we discovered, much to my husband's chagrin, that his client has once again, made the unilateral and unfair decision to delay payment.

Two months' worth of outstanding pay now threatens to capsize our savings. To hear my husband rant and rave, and to listen to his underlying tone of dissapointment and defeat, and to know that soon, he would have to swallow his anger and his pride to plead for something that is rightfully his, makes for a bleak Tuesday morning indeed.

And so it is that I end up scavenging for books from a bargain basket in Giant Supermarket. I can't even afford proper retail therapy so I tell myself to enjoy the irony of discovering art in a place as banal as a hypermart.

The books are stacked face-up in a big wire bin, not unlike discount clothes. I had to go through the whole mound of literature, to unearth the ones I want. There were a lot of Shakespeare - Richard the Third, As You Like It, a volume of sonnets, and there was a solitary To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, which I didn't buy because I haven't even started on the Orlando I bought at Tesco. Beryl Bainbridge, Oscar Wilde, Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Drabble, even Gabriel Garcia Marquez, - all were pressed against each other like comrades in arms in a dusty foxhole. Finally, I decided on four books :

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, RM9.99. This is Pushkin's "most moving, romantic epic" and his most enduring, if not really long, poem. Given the circumstances, it felt appropriate to dive into the "melancholy splendor and chilling depth of Russian literature". I have no idea if I would ever finish reading a novel in verse, but I shall endeavour! (I carry a small copy of Beowulf in my handbag, just in case I find myself bored, waiting for something) To be honest, I bought it for the picture of Ralph Fiennes on the cover, and also, in the hope that it would serve as a companion to the Onegin DVD that my dear sister will buy me. (she doesn't know it yet, but she will buy me)

Kuala Lumpur dari Perspektif Haji Abdullah Hukum by Adnan Haji Nawang, RM3.69. This is a reprint of a series of interviews with Haji Abdullah Hukum, published in Warta Ahad, back in 1935. To KL denizens today, Abdullah Hukum (1835-1943) may be nothing more than an LRT stop, but the gentleman was once instrumental in the development of areas around Pudu-Bukit Bintang and Bukit Nanas, and also started plantations in a place called Sungai Putih -- the old name for Bangsar. This book is a personal account of a man who lived through the history of Kuala Lumpur, even before Yap Ah Loy and the arrival of the British. I was always interested in old KL, and this book should satisfy a great part of that curiosity. Includes some pictures, and the original Warta Ahad articles, which is in jawi (which my husband is attempting to read, right now)

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, RM4.99. How could I resist this book? I love Conrad because he is deft at presenting the tragedy of men taking the wrong turn, and always against the backdrop of great and dramatic adventure. Almayer's Folly, Nostromo, Heart of Darkness, the yet unread Lord Jim which now occupies the bookshelf of someone far-far away : every protagonist is tainted, seduced by evil and human weaknesses, and yet somehow, still worthy of our pity. The man of the hour, Khairy Jamaluddin, I discovered, cited Heart of Darkness as his Favourite Read. Meanwhile, Secret Agent is described as an atypical Conrad novel - it is set in dour London, for example. The anti-hero is Verloc, "an overweight, indolent anarchist who conceals his political activities, such as they are, under a veneer of domesticity and family life". I bought it because the blurb says its "brilliant depiction of a terrorist underworld, its ruthless irony and its black satire on a morally corrupt society is the culmination of many influences on Conrad, including that of Dickens and Dostoyevsky". That's me - I judge a book by its cover.

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, RM9.99. The only other Herman Hesse that I have laid my hands on was my father's copy of Siddharta. Steppenwolf is a story about the individual, about not relating to, and being alienated by society, much like wolves in the Steppes. It has been called the "hip bible of 1960's counter-culture, and captured the mood of a disaffected generation and a century increasingly unsure of itself".
I thought it might prove instructional for our time, and that's why this is the book I am reading first.


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