A trip around unique bookstores in Seoul

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

While some go to large bookstore chains such as the Kyobo Book Center and the Aladdin Store to find books, others go to smaller neighborhoods or sole retailers in hopes of finding interesting titles. Unique bookstores such as Seoul Book Bogo, Arc N Book and Starfield Library have attracted both tourists and Koreans looking for both books and taking ongoing photos of the stunning interior of the stores. However, smaller independent bookstores are very different from the ones that attract hundreds of visitors every day.

In some of the smallest unique bookstores around Seoul, every owner’s love for books and what makes them unique will not be lost on its visitors.

Storage book and movie (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Storage book and movie (Lim Jang-won / The Korea Herald)

Storage book and film

Located in Haebangchon in Yongsan, downtown Seoul, the independent Storage Book & Film is not easy to find as it is off the main road with its popular restaurants. Opened in 2012, it is unique in that it only sells books printed by independent publishers.

While larger bookstores often place bestsellers in striking places, this bookstore does not divide books by genre due to limited space. With different books piled up next to each other, people spend a lot of time in the bookstore flipping through the books one by one.

“In a way, the books of major publishers are designed and created in a very standard way,” said Mike Kang, CEO of Storage Book & Film. “Books by independent publishers are all unique, so there is a lot of freedom abroad. 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 create book selling books. While running a small bookstore is not financially easy, the proceeds from the sale of books, independent books published by the store itself and the workshops maintain the operation of the bookstore.

“Many independently published books have not been created with commercial interest, so they are relatively freer in terms of format and form and authors are allowed to do anything,” Kang said. “I want customers to approach books in a more flexible way. Some people may wonder why a particular book was published, but the author has reason to write the book. Just because a particular customer cannot understand the intention does not mean that the book is wrong. It’s just different. “

“We sell books that can present different aspects of independently published books. We do not really focus on whether it will sell well or not and we try to choose books that we want to sell or present. “It is difficult to have a criterion,” he said.

Two of the most memorable independent books in recent years about Kang were “I will cry if I write a little more. I will write again tomorrow “which collects love letters written by a husband to his wife from 1985 to 1988 when they also dated” Oppa Diary “, a collection of diary entries and photographs of the author’s deceased older brother, to commemorate his death .

“I hope to make a positive impact on people through independently published books. “I also want them to feel the joy of independent books,” Kang said.

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

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

Mystery Association

For those who enjoy mystery novels and are looking to find the next thriller to read, Mystery Union is the place to go.

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

Organized by country and author, customers can find many mystery books and receive suggestions from the owner. On the one hand it is a thematic unit that highlights various categories, such as the mystery of science fiction and the historical mystery, which rotates every month.

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

An avid reader himself, Yoo is happy to make recommendations to patrons looking for a careful reading.

Although the majority of its customers are women, as it stands in front of Ewha Womans University, Yoo believed that its store had more male customers than other bookstores because of the genre. He also believes that readers of mystery novels tend to ask more questions about books than readers of other genres, such as those about book arrangement or the literary devices used.

Sometimes parents would come with children who usually start reading mystery novels with well-known novels such as the Sherlock Holmes series.

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

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

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

Book lounge

A few minutes ’walk from Seoul National University Station is the only Salon De Book bar where guests can enjoy drinks while reading books.

One Monday afternoon, some students sat at the bar eating snacks and drinking, while others immersed themselves in their books with a drink on the side.

“I like to drink while reading a book, so I often went to a local bar and read. “After a while, I felt uncomfortable that people kept looking and thinking about creating a place where people could read a book and drink comfortably,” said Kang Myung-ji, owner of the Salon De Book. “Although many books of places where you can read and have a drink have appeared in recent years, when I opened in 2016, I remember the tax official asking me if such a place was possible.”

Although it is not easy to run a bookstore without a steady income, the desire to have a place that satisfies both pleasures at the same time keeps Kang going.

One pair of books and drinks he suggests is an old-fashioned cocktail and “Do you like Brahms?” by Francoise Sagan because the theme of love is like a classic cocktail that does not change over time.

As the place is registered as a restaurant, COVID-19 regulations require the store to close earlier than before. However, as it also functions as a cultural space in addition to being a place to read books, Kang had no desire to shut 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 are the owners. “A bookstore where people want to keep it as if it were 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

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

From books on traditional Korean religions, culture and history to K-pop and BTS books, the bookstore prides itself on having one of the largest collections of Korean Studies books in English. He also serves as a freelance publisher and translates and publishes popular Korean literature.

The unique emphasis on English language books in Korea is hard to find anywhere else. The bookstore aims to raise awareness of foreigners about Korea.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, tourists visiting the palace would stop and visit foreigners and teachers living in Korea. Now, the bookstore operates mainly by selling books that it publishes and translates, as well as regularly sending books to universities around the world.

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

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

With Korea now best known around the world, there is less demand for introductory books about Korea and a higher interest in fiction by notable authors such as Han Kang in English, collections of traditional Korean stories, and books on K-pop, among others.

For those interested in finding and reading Korean literature in English, the best chance of finding them is here.

By Lim Jang-won ([email protected])

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