A trip around unique bookstores in Seoul

Salon de Book (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

While some head to mega-bookstore chains like the Kyobo Book Center and the Aladdin Store to find books, others head to smaller neighborhoods or unique retailers in hopes of finding interesting titles. Unique bookstores such as Seoul Book Bogo, Arc N Book, and Starfield Library have drawn tourists and Koreans alike who want to both check out books and snap permanent photos of the stores’ stunning interiors. However, smaller independent bookstores are vastly different from those that attract hundreds of visitors every day.

At some of the smaller, one-of-a-kind bookstores in Seoul, every owner’s love for books and what makes them special is not lost to their diners.

Storage book & film (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Storage book & film (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Storage book & film

The independent bookstore Storage Book & Film is located in Haebangchon in Yongsan in central Seoul and is not easy to find as it is on the main street with its popular restaurants. It opened in 2012 and is unique in that it only sells books printed by independent publishers.

While larger bookstores often place bestsellers in conspicuous locations, this bookstore does not classify books by genre due to limited space. With various books stacked side by side, people spend a lot of time in the bookstore, leafing through the books one by one.

“In a way, books are designed and produced in a very standardized way by major publishers,” said Mike Kang, CEO of Storage Book & Film. “Books from independent publishers are all unique, so there’s a lot of freedom on the outside. Each of us looks and thinks differently. Why should books be the same? “

His interest in independently published books led him to quit his job in finance and start a book sales business. While running a small bookstore isn’t easy financially, the income from the sale of books, independent books the store publishes itself, and workshops keep the bookstore going.

“Many independently published books are not produced with commercial interests, so they are relatively freer in context and form and the authors are free to do anything,” said Kang. “I want customers to be more flexible with books. Some people may wonder why a particular book was published, but the author has a reason to write the book. Just because a certain customer can’t figure out the intent doesn’t mean the book is wrong. It’s just different. “

“We sell books that can show various aspects of independently published books. We don’t really focus on whether or not it sells well, trying to pick books to sell or introduce. It’s hard to have a criterion, ”he said.

Two of the most memorable independent books for Kang in recent years have been, “I’ll cry if I write a little more. I’ll Write Again Tomorrow ”, which compiles love letters that a husband wrote to his wife from 1985 to 1988 when they met, and“ Oppa Diary ”, a compilation of diary entries and pictures of the author’s late older brother, for Memory of his death.

“I hope to have a positive impact on people through the independently published books. I also want them to experience the joy that independent books have to offer, ”said Kang.

Mystery Union (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Mystery Union (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Mystery Union

For those who like mystery novels and are looking for the next thriller to read, Mystery Union is the place.

Hidden in an alley in Sinchon, west of Seoul, is the Mystery Union bookstore, whose name matches the books it sells. Mystery books by authors from all over the world adorn the shelves.

Organized by country and author, customers can find a variety of mystery books and get suggestions from the owner. On one side is a subject area that highlights different categories, such as: B. Science fiction mysteries and historical mysteries that change every month.

“I only started the bookstore because I like mystery books,” said owner Yoo Soo-young. “No other reason.”

Yoo is an avid reader herself and likes to give recommendations to customers who are looking for exciting reads.

Although the majority of its customers are women as it is located in front of Ewha Womans University, Yoo believed that because of the genre, their store had more male customers than other bookstores. She also believes that readers of crime novels tend to ask more questions about the books than readers of other genres, e.g. B. about the setting of the book or the literary devices used.

Sometimes parents came with children who usually start reading detective novels from well-known novels like the Sherlock Holmes series.

“Korean crime novels are being published more than ever. Japanese and English crime novels are still the most popular with customers, ”said Yoo.

Salon de Book (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Salon de Book (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Book lounge

Just a few minutes’ walk from Seoul National University Station in Seoul is the unique Bar Salon De Book bookstore, where customers can enjoy drinks while reading books.

Early on a Monday night, some college students were sitting in the bar eating snacks and drinking while others were immersed in their books with a drink on the side.

“I like to have a drink while reading a book, so I would often go to a local bar and read. After a while, I felt uncomfortable that people kept staring and thinking of creating a place where people could read a book and drink comfortably, ”said Kang Myung-ji, owner of Salon De Book. “Although there have been many book places in recent years where you can read and have a drink, I remember when I opened in 2016 that the official at the tax office asked me whether such a place was possible.”

While running a bookstore without a steady income isn’t easy, the desire to have a place that fulfills both pleasures keeps Kang going.

One book and drink couple she recommends is an old fashioned cocktail and “do you like Brahms?” by Francoise Sagan, because the theme of love is like a classic cocktail that doesn’t change despite time.

Since the place is registered as a restaurant, the business must close earlier than before according to the provisions of COVID-19. However, since Kang is not just a place to read books but is also a cultural space, it did not want to close down and continues to plan online events and programs that combine drinks and books.

“I want Salon De Books to be a place where all customers can feel like they own. A bookstore where people want to keep them like their own and read books, drink and share stories, ”Kang said.

Seoul selection (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Seoul selection (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Seoul selection

Across from popular tourist attraction Gyeongbokgung, in the basement of the building that houses the Korean Publishers Association is Seoul Selection, which only sells English-language books about Korea.

From books on traditional Korean religions, culture and history to books on K-pop and BTS, the bookstore prides itself on having one of the largest collections of English-language books on Korean studies. It also serves as an independent publisher, translating and publishing popular Korean literature.

The unique emphasis on English-language books on Korea is found nowhere else. The bookstore aims to sensitize foreigners to Korea.

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists visiting the palace passed by and foreigners and professors living in Korea visited it. Today, the bookstore mainly sells books that it publishes and translates, and regularly ships books to universities around the world.

Books in Seoul Selection (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Books in Seoul Selection (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

As Korea is now better known around the world, there is less demand for introductory books about Korea and more interest in fictions by well-known authors such as Han Kang in English, compilations of traditional Korean stories and books on K-pop.

For those looking to find and read Korean literature in English, this is your best chance to find it.

By Lim Jang-won ([email protected])

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