Samui Wining & Dining
Where to find a good read on the island – and what to do with your books afterwards!


You’ve finally made it to the airport. It’s quite exciting really, now that the time is finally here. Your bags have been on the bedroom floor for a week, with extra bits being tucked in and taken out: the list of needful things has been triple checked (twice), the same with your travel documents. Baggage weights have been agonised over, the gas and water are turned off; doors and windows all locked; you’ve booked into the long-stay car park, checked-in your bags and, finally, flumped down with a huge sigh. There’s another 90 minutes to kill now before boarding so, after a while, you do what we all do. You get out your plastic and cheerfully indulge yourself by stocking up with all the latest bestsellers that you’ve been looking forward to. It’s part and parcel of the whole holiday thing, after all.

      I’m well aware that quite a few of you have been shaking your heads whilst reading this. You’ll be the ones who are grinning knowledgably and murmuring “e-books”; no doubt patting your iPad or Kindle affectionately as you do. Well, yes, this is the digital age after all, and I recently read that the total sales of e-books in 2012 topped the one billion mark for the first time. Amazing. And this was also the first year ever that the sales of e-books overtook sales of paperbacks – surpassing them by an overall 13%.

Interestingly, hardback sales are continuing to rise, although nobody’s quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the multitude of older readers, set in their ways, enjoying adding to their collections every month. It might have something to do with the long-established book clubs which offer discounted hardbacks every month. Nobody knows for sure – this is all still new and evolving territory.

But – for all you (no doubt!) smug and techno-savvy e-bookers out there – there’s a substantial downside to the whole business of electronic books; this is something that tens of thousands of folks are only just beginning to realise. It’s called DRM: digital rights management. It means copy protection. It means that, unlike a well-thumbed paperback, you aren’t able to pass on a great read to your mum, sister or the guy on the sunbed next to you (well, not unless you lend them your iPad also). Imagine that you’ve just bought a great album by your favourite singer. It’s on a CD. But only you, in your house and on your CD player (or iTunes device) are able to listen to it – it won’t play anywhere else. It’s the same with e-books. It’s a real thumbs-up for the floundering conglomerates that own the (quote) ‘intellectual property rights’, but a poke in the eye for you. And, unless you want to begin to explore the whole grey area of torrents, then you’re limited to one iPad and one licenced book to match.

        Which brings us neatly back to proper books again – ones made of pulped trees that you can write shopping lists on the inside covers of, or chuck at annoying dogs or partners, or lend to the guy (or girl!) on the next sunbed. I have a sneaking feeling that their saleable numbers might be diminishing but there are still a million tons of them lurking about on our globe, and with plenty more still being produced and bought – witness what you did in the airport bookshop while you were waiting for your flight to be called. Did you spend your time whanging down the latest digital e-book thriller from Barnes & Noble? No. You went and fingered the tangy slickness of a virgin cover or two (isn’t it seductive how all the new ones now have glossy embossed lettering?) and savoured the satisfying heft of the whole thing and the unmistakable bouquet of the freshlyprinted page. Other than that new-car smell, there’s no other odour in the world as sexy as a brand-new unopened paperback!

          The only problem is that you’re now on holiday. You’ve got four or five hours each day to loll about on the beach and by the pool or slathered with aftersun on your balcony while your partner is showering – and so you read. What you would usually nibble at for half an hour each night before going to sleep you’ll cover in a couple of days here. The three books that you brought with you have been swapped and finished in a week. You might exchange one or two with the people next door. And then you’re stuck. New material is needed.

          If you’re lucky you might find that your resort has a bookcase full of discarded reads. But (having avidly been scrounging around in the course of my . . . ahem . . . work) the chances are that 80% of them are in Swedish, French, Russian or German. (Oddly, never in Italian – do the Italians read?) Which will make you squeak if you are from these places. Other than that, you’ll just have to go in search of new pages.

          On Samui your choice is a) new books, b) used books and c) whatever is easiest and most convenient! Nobody is going to be fired-up to the extent that they’ll take a taxi to the other end of the island just to save a Euro on the price of a book. But, if you are German, French or Russian, you might just be motivated enough to want to go and hunt for books in your own language. And that’s where the used bookshops come into the picture.

          New books you’ll find in Chaweng’s Bookazine, with another branch easily accessible outside Tesco Lotus. Their thrust has always been (admirably) mainstream, and so you’ll find the latest releases by Stephen King, John Connelly, Robin Cook, Kathy Reichs et al. But it’s a bit like going along to your local Honda dealer to buy a car. Only the current models are on show. If you want the excitement of the unexpected, you’ll need to spend an hour or so rummaging for used bargains. And the huge advantage here is that you’ll not only find lots of fascinating backdated classics (a bit like watching movies on cable TV!) but you’ll have access to lots more languages also.

          The first, the original, is Jim’s Bookshop in Nathon, now under different management. Jim himself was an original, a Samui character, a registered alcoholic with driving bans on four continents, and one of the most fascinating and energetic pensioners you could ever hope to meet. Sadly, now he is no more, having met his unpredictable demise through an excess of the sun that he loved so much and, not as his critics anticipated, via liver and kidney failure! His shop is still there, in the short one-way side-road which runs between the police station and the original ferry pier. As with all the other used book shops, this one also has huge sections of books in several languages.

          Lamai has a similarly-extensive book-porium, going under the title of Island Books. It’s easy enough to find, being signposted off the ring-road close to Buddy Resort. And in Maenam, on the ‘walking street’ close to the beach end of the road, there’s Ink, a smaller-but-thriving bookshop, which also runs community workshops and a writers’ circles for locals. But, closer to the hub of holidaymaker Samui, on the ring-road in Chaweng, opposite the Laem Din traffic lights and almost next to World Gym, there’s also the bright red frontage of Smile Books. This is another font of eclecticism, offering whole sections in multiple languages.

          Others crop up from time to time, and then vanish. Some (like the Thai-owned bookery near the lights in Maenam) have no idea of what they stock, have had the same books for ten years, optimistically charge fractionally less than new prices, never sell a thing and couldn’t care less. Strangely, there is absolutely nowhere on Samui which has a selection of e-books on offer – but it’s only a matter of time before a savvy bookshop owner catches-on and will let you select a dozen titles to put on your USB thumb-stick for fifty cents a pop.

          And, at the end of the day, when you’ve bought your souvenirs and are packed for home, what do you do with your books? They’re heavy and you’ve read them, so you dump them in your hotel. Why not. But – you could put them to better use. The Sisters on Samui (SOS) are delighted to re-channel used books for local charities. Google the SOS, make a phone call or two, and someone will come and collect your dead books. It’s better than coming back next year and finding them still there on the shelf!


 Rob De Wet


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