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Inside GOHD Books, the only rare books store in Singapore

The rise of digital books has left many traditionalists questioning the relevance of printed works in our everyday lives. The Internet and e-readers have replaced the space paperbacks and hardbacks used to occupy in our hands, and this shift has not just affected the casual reader, but literary institutions as well.

Museums and heritage libraries are liquidating, choosing to move their collections off the shelves and online. In 2010, Stanford University pioneered the bookless library initiative, which became quickly adopted by the William H. Welch Medical Library in John Hopkins. Then, in 2013, the first digital public library, BiblioTech, opened in Texas.

In the face of printed media’s steady reconfiguration into bits and bytes for contemporary tastes, the idea of preserving literary history through rare book collection seems like a luxury we do not want to afford. Yet, there are a few souls around the globe who remain firm as champions for the cause.

“I once met this rare book collector who told me that he sees himself as the custodian of such books,” said Deyana Goh, the owner of GOHD Books. “I see myself the same way.”

gohd books singapore
Inside GOHD Books.

GOHD Books is an independent rare books store in Singapore, the only one around our hyper-digitised city that deals exclusively in early edition volumes.

Goh was 10 when her interest in old novels was sparked. It was on a holiday in New Zealand, at a basement bookstore in Auckland where these volumes passed her hands, and that encounter swelled into a career.

gohd books singapore
More novels from a different perspective.

The shop has been around since 2009, evolving from its early days as a secondhand bookstore to the full-fledged rare books repository it is now.

Our country has never had a forgiving ecosystem for booksellers to thrive in, and the nine years GOHD Books has remained standing is a testimony to that fact. Reading and literature have never been a significant part of local culture, and because of that paucity, many colossal bookstores have fallen to a blight. Still, GOHD Books has quietly chugged on — it is the little bibliotech that could.

gohd books singapore
From left to right: Stendhal’s The Charteruse of Parma, an 1877 collection of Sir Walter Scott’s poetry, and Samuel Coleridge’s opuses from the 1800s.

Its current home in Burlington Square may look like any other small bookstore from the outside, but step in, and you’ll find yourself in a time capsule. The shelves are stacked with faded tomes that stare at you through worn spines pressed with authors’ names — some so familiar, they send a bibliophile’s heart sputtering, while others obscure enough to spark curiosity.

gohd books singapore
The complete series of Plutarch’s Lives, an anthology of Greek and Roman written in the second century that later inspired William Shakespeare’s famed Roman plays.

Illustrated early editions of Shakespeare’s works sit across from a family of Tolstoy’s novels, a few printed during a time where his name was spelt “Tolstoi”. Asian mythology occupies another row, adjacent to a collection of old local literature.

The categories are as diverse as the wares at GOHD Books, proving how Goh does not curate a selection just for the lit elite, but other readers as well.

gohd books singapore
The first edition of We by Eugene Zamiatin is currently the most expensive book in GOHD. The dystopic novel was banned in Soviet Russia when it was released and had to be smuggled out of the nation. It later inspired Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Even though our national predisposition for literature may not be as intense as some European ones, GOHD Books has amassed a presence amongst a community of enthusiasts here.

A number of these people now own a trophy that used to live on the shop’s shelves, with some of the rarest being the first English edition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Treatise On Painting, a copy of Dante’s Inferno from 1595, and the earliest print of Lord Byron’s Hebrew Melodies.

gohd books singapore
The Works of Virgil, bound in vellum and entirely in Latin, remains in the store. The ink is in amazing condition despite its antiquity — the book was published in 1620s.

GOHD Books’ enduring presence in our minute literary scene is a beacon of hope for anyone with the slightest passion for stories told through ink and paper. The next time you’re at Burlington Square, do yourself a favour and step inside.

Inside GOHD Books, the only rare books store in Singapore

Beatrice Bowers

Features Editor

Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.

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