by Felicia-Low Jimenez, Interviews Editor, Kitaab
BooksActually, Singapore’s best-known and arguably best-loved independent bookstore, celebrated its 10th anniversary just last year. In this day and age of exorbitant rentals, and with faux-smart devices diverting shortening attention spans from reading, it is a remarkable feat. It is also a testament to the dedication and drive of the team that runs the store — Kenny Leck, Renee Ting, and their bookstore elves.
Not satisfied with just running a bookstore that boasts an impressively curated selection of titles with an emphasis on Singaporean works, Kenny also runs a publishing arm called Math Paper Press (MPP). MPP is an imprint focused on promoting local voices and ideas, and oftentimes pushes boundaries, taking risks that other Singaporean publishers might shy away from.
You might think that with the bookstore (both physical and online) and MPP, Kenny, Renee, and team would have their hands full. But despite all that they have to deal with, the team also hosts a gathering once a month that they call Babette’s Feast. The aptly named feast is a casual gathering of folk who are involved in the local literary scene.
During the dinner I attended, Kenny, who is well-known for #nevernotworking, spent a large portion of the dinner with his eyes glued to his non-smart phone, replying to work-related messages. He’s quite possibly one of the few people left in Singapore who doesn’t have a data plan. He would intermittently throw out random comments, usually related to something someone said about publishing or politics. I also learned that of all the bookstore staff, Renee attracts the weirdest customers.
- How did the idea of Babette’s Feast come about (both the imprint as well as the dinner)? I’m assuming the movie was an inspiration?
Kenny: Sadly, the movie was furthest from our minds, or should I say we had always wanted the Babette’s Feast sessions to be food-driven, and in the hunt for a name, I thought of Babette’s Feast as I had vaguely watched the movie before when I was very much younger. And I am going to use the word “vaguely” because I remember not finishing the movie. Of course, the whole idea was to gather folks from within the Sing-Lit community, whether you are a writer, publisher, NAC crew, editor, marketing team at a publisher, or as long as you are somehow involved in the Sing-Lit circles, we will invite you to have a good dinner, and hopefully, good conversations with us.