Fully Booked
Jennifer Choo 
The selection of titles at Tintabudi is the antithesis of what you would normally find at the big bookshop chains

The impending extinction of the printed word has been predicted for many years now, yet in the UK, print sales of consumer books including fiction, non-fiction and children’s titles, rose almost 9% last year to £1.55 bil (RM8.57 bil).

In Malaysia, where the bestseller list is an uneven mish-mash of movie tie-ins, chick-lits and brand-name authors, and where the average Malaysian is more inclined to surf Facebook than pick up a book, the future of bookstores still seems perilous, what more the independent ones.

Yet in Kampung Attap’s burgeoning creative enclave, The Zhongshan Building, the opening of Tintabudi has genuine book lovers abuzz. Despite its modest size, Tintabudi has ambitious plans to add diversity and create a meeting place for readers.

The men behind this enterprise, Nazir Harith Fadzilah, 29, and Rohan Yung, 35, are deeply passionate about the written word.

Besides introducing little-known titles to a wider audience, Nazir (left) and Rohan hope to build a community of book lovers through Tintabudi

“I picked up reading books quite late actually,” confesses Nazir. “During my A-Levels, I started getting acquainted with Malay literature written by A. Samad Said, Shahnon Ahmad and Faisal Tehrani. I found them remarkable and interesting.”

They inspired him to explore books in Malay and English. “By the time I was in university in Melbourne, I was reading voraciously. As there were many second-hand bookshops where I lived, it was easy for me to indulge and start building my own library. When I ran out of cash, I’d visit the State Victoria Library just so I had something to read. And then I started selling my books to enable me to buy new ones,” he reminisces.

As for Yung, his love for books was reinforced during his university days: “I was an undergraduate at Cambridge University studying literature and I loved the whole experience. My subsequent career in education has been an extension of this love. I enjoy helping my students explore books, texts, poetry and ideas.”

Operating a bookstore was the natural next step for him. “I wanted to seek out and create a community of readers.”

Nazir had already opened Tintabudi in Ipoh before the opportunity to move to Kuala Lumpur arose. “From buying and selling books on a small scale, I then set up an online bookshop in Melbourne. It didn’t work but the idea stuck with me. There were several bookshops in Melbourne that I frequented, and each was very distinct in their selections. I had conversations with the owners and decided that I would open a bookshop of my own in the future.”

Upon returning to Malaysia in 2016, the engineering graduate took the plunge and set up Tintabudi at a bed-and-breakfast in Ipoh. Half of the initial stock was made up of his own collection that he brought back from Melbourne.

“I named it Tintabudi (in Bahasa Malaysia, tinta means “ink” and “budi” translates to “ethics” and “intellect”).  After a couple of months of operation, I met Rohan at an art exhibition in Publika where I had a Tintabudi booth. He proposed a collaboration to bring Tintabudi to Kuala Lumpur. That piqued my interest.”

After talking some more, Nazir agreed to close the Ipoh operation and move to Kuala Lumpur. “It was time for Tintabudi to have a proper space,” he quips.

Rohan’s decision to broach this with Tintabudi was an easy one, being an admirer of Nazir’s literary tastes. “I was drawn to almost every single book that the @tintabudi Instagram featured, from modernist poetry and literary criticism to challenging fiction. Here was a guiding intelligence that I would want to make an integral part of a bookshop. So here we are, making this project a reality.”

Since its official launch in July, Tintabudi has been charming visitors with its eclectic selection of titles on literature, philosophy, arts, and fiction that the pair finds interesting and feel deserve a wider reading audience.

“We select the titles to be featured in the store carefully. In the process, we hope that apart from us recommending the titles, our customers would also recommend some interesting read to us. A bookshop should have that communal aspect where we learn from each other, and grow the love of reading together,” enthuses Nazir.

Yung adds: “An independent bookshop like ours allows for vibrant exchanges between the book seller and the buyer. We bring our own particular tastes and interests to bear, but we also listen closely to the community that we intend to build. It would be brilliant if this bookstore could evolve into an intersection of niches. For one, I would love to see more contemporary poetry from across the globe. Nazir is passionate about unearthing interesting philosophical texts that lie outside of the Western canon. We want the reading community to bring their own passions and obsessions to the Tintabudi project.”

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 250.