Travel writer and avid book collector Azhari Mahmood, aka Zari Malaysiana, is a man on a mission. He loves books, especially rare Malaysian books. He aims to grow a nationwide community that appreciates and understands the value of these old books.

“Serious collectors have always been around when it comes to this kind of books. But I think a lot of younger Malaysians are now waking up to the fact that the only way to dig for our lost histories is to look through old books and to discover things. It takes effort, but it’s worth it,” says Zari.

This weekend, Zari is putting together the “Book Street” corner, which he calls “a pocket event” in conjunction with Collector’s Pick Merdeka market at Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya from Aug 30 to Sept 1.

The three-day rare book fair, starting this Friday morning, is all about gathering an independent community of vintage book sellers, and the focus will be on a vast selection of collectible and out-of-print books, rare antique maps, prints, photographs, manuscripts and antiquities, some over 100 years old.

A majority of the vendors are specialists in British Malaya-era vintage books and rare South-East Asian publications. An array of Malaysian first edition books from the 1960s and 1970s will also be available alongside contemporary books, indie publications, comics and fanzines.

This weekend’s vendors include GMS Buku, Pelita Dhihin, Balai Buku Raya, Taman Pustaka, Rumah Klasik Kuantan, Padajiwa, Obscura Malaysia, Kedai Hitam Putih, Antique Depot Buku and ITBM (Institut Terjemahan Buku Malaysia).

“I just wanted to start something new with this ‘Book Street’ idea. Vintage markets, admittedly, can be overwhelming, so to have all the book vendors in a dedicated area is a good thing. There will be 17 vendors. Due to space constraints, we had to limit ourselves.

“Book lovers will find a fascinating treasure trove. Think of it as a trip to an exhibit or museum.  I’ve organised the Book Street in such a way that newcomers can explore the diversity of vintage books, while regulars will also have plenty to pick from,” says Zari, who will be manning his book stall called Malaysiana.

Zari does admit that rare book prices can be steep for casual collectors, but he has picked out a wide variety of vendors to ensure there will be enough affordable books and bargains to go around.

“At the last book event in Amcorp, a vendor sold a copy of the Malay Peninsula, a 1907 book by German photographer Charles J. Kleingrothe, for RM6,000. It was snapped up quickly by an ardent collector. It was a rare boxed portfolio book. That gives you an indication of the value of such books.

“But that’s not to say you cannot snap up a bargain if you’re on a budget. There will be plenty of books to choose from and you might get lucky with a gem or two,” says Zari.

The Book Street initiative is also a good opportunity to network, especially for an event driven by a community of vendors, collectors and newcomers.

Zari also reveals that more grassroots rare book fairs are being planned to coincide with Kuala Lumpur named as the World Book Capital for the year 2020 by Unesco.

“We believe in community spirit. The Book Street, we hope, is a start of something very exciting for book lovers at a grassroots level. Also, since KL is the World Book Capital next year, we better make reading a habit,” he concludes.

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