Meet the Bookseller with Selena Tan

We chat with Selena Tan about what she’s reading right now, and why the smell of a new book is so tempting.


Why do you work in books?

I love the smell of books, and receiving stock is always potentially exciting. Like the time I discovered I Am Maru by mugumogu straight out of the box. Also, there is the possibility of meeting authors I admire. David Levithan is definitely my meet-the-author highlight of this year.

Working at the State Library shop is additionally awesome, being a house of books within a giant house of books.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately and why?

Ai Weiwei Speaks with Hans Ulrich Obrist. As a series of conversations between an artist and a curator, I find this book endlessly illuminating. Ai Weiwei extends his practice beyond visual art to architecture, publishing and activism, and his social conscience inspires in me a spirit of defiance.

What’s the best experience you’ve had in a bookshop?

The time I found a first edition hardback of Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. Aside from intensely loving that book, I was actually looking to buy a copy for my brother whose first baby was about to be born and that hardback was a serendipitous find. It would have been a total triumph if it was signed but one has to leave room for further best experiences.

What’s your favourite book of all time and why?

This is tough and I will have to say the novels of Arthur Nersesian. From the moment I read The Fuck-Up, I was hooked on the originality of his voice and the rhythm, style and humour of his prose. Subsequent highlights include Unlubricated, Chinese Takeout and Suicide Casanova – the hardback edition of that is in a VHS tape case.

Name a book that has changed the way you think – in ways small or large.

And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts. A significant piece of investigative journalism that shone a light on government indifference in the early days of HIV/AIDS, it saddened, outraged and impressed upon me the importance, and power, of personal advocacy.

What was your favourite book as a kid?

As a young child, Miffy by Dick Bruna. My mother would often take me to the neighbourhood library and I’d check out the Miffy books all the time. I loved the bold graphic lines and primary colours. A few years later, I was captivated by Ponyboy’s narration in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders: ‘When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.’ What an excellent opener.