Burma’s Other Rare Gems: Old Titles Top Sales at Seikku Cho Cho Book Fair

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 3 August 2015

RANGOON — Book lovers from near and far spent the rainy holiday weekend perusing long-lost titles in the shadow of Shwedagon Pagoda, where the Seikku Cho Cho publishing house holds an annual book fair.

Most popular, said the owner, San Oo, are the rare tomes of days gone by, which the publisher has breathed new life into with fresh editions that seemed impossible to produce only a few years ago.

“Today’s best-sellers are not new-comers,” San Oo said. “People like the old, rare books that were not allowed to be reprinted before.”

Marking the 16th anniversary of Seikku Cho Cho the 12-day fair features more than 2,000 titles and offers major discounts for big purchases. The sale will continue until Aug. 12 at the east corner of the Shwedagon.

Most of the books on offer are older novels that were popular in the 1950s and 60s.

“It’s obvious,” San Oo observed, “people like books that represent the poor, and rare books that were out of print for the last 30 or 40 years. These books can now be republished, and they’re turning into best-sellers again.”

Today’s authors aren’t as popular, he figured, because they lacked the practice and functioning industry that the old masters had. Decades of censorship created a climate of fear and little incentive for creative writing and political non-fiction. But with the easing of press restrictions—such as abolishing pre-publication censorship in 2012—San Oo thinks it may be time for a Burmese literary renaissance.

“I hope in the next 10 years or so, new authors will come about more and more,” he said.

His immediate concern is that extreme weather in recent weeks will have a longer term impact on sales. Many customers turned up over the weekend to stock up on reading material because of the promotional discounts, he said, but they might not come back throughout the year.

Pa Pa, a regular customer, said she always comes to the book fair to get a good deal. An avid reader and lover of rare literary treasures, said she appreciates the sheer variety of titles on offer in one place. Year after year, Pa Pa said, “I always come here to buy many books altogether and get a discount from the normal prices. I like it.”

San Oo knows the old titles will stay popular, he said so he can take a few risks with newer publications. Oftentimes, he said, new chooses to promote content he thinks will be useful to readers, like books about politics, and well-known figure in Burmese history—both good and bad. They may not be best-sellers at first, but they almost always pick up as word gets around.

The Seikku Cho Cho book fair will run until Aug. 12 at Anawar Damayone, Yaytarshay Street, Shweadgon Pagoda East Wing, and is open daily from 9am to 5pm.