Monday, November 2, 2009

Books in Beijing

I just read the latest email newsletter from The Bookworm in Beijing where, in addition to the monthly single-malt Wednesday, they are hosting a film series (Visions of China: six generations of Chinese filmmaking), a bluegrass band, an open mike session for musicians (Basically Beethoven), a Sunday Salon with a violinist presiding, a writer's workshop, and Colm Toibin reading from his latest novel, Brooklyn.

The Bookworm is a strange and lovely place--a bookstore that is smaller than many book sections that I have known and loved in the past, but with well-chosen volumes on its shelves, a library that is huge and disorganized and like a Salvation Army book department where I found a Skagit Valley cookbook with recipes from Pacific Northwest authors and others, a restaursnt with food that is Western, imaginatively named in literary fashion, and marginally edible in British fashion (stick to the desserts), and a carefully nurtured single-malt scotch selection.

It is the brainchild of an English literary empire-builder named Alexandra Pearson, who has scattered her stores past Beijing and into Chengdu and Suzhou, and may go international, according to a Beijing staff member, with possible stores in Bangkok and Canberra. This woman's ambition is only exceeded by her energy--when she moves through her store, the air crackles.

Just one of the events that she has going on in November would have Bangkok on its ear--bookstores are not destinations of activity in this city. In fact, it's hard for me to think of any bookstore in the States that has the diversity of the Bookworm--a bar, a restaurant, a music venue, a library, a place to buy new books, a center for a literary festival that attracts truly fine writers, a spot for readings year-round after that festival is over, regular Quiz Nights and Scotch tastings and recently a month-long series of events dealing with the evolution of the species.

It is not perfect--some of the literary events are so tedious that they verge on the smug side and one author remarked that only two of his books were available for him to sign ( a rival Beijing bookstore who also hosted him had the man's entire literary output, which considering that it is mostly in paperback is not a huge outlay). But it is a vibrant, growing, enticing spot in the citiesI have visited and it always offers something to attract a widely diverse audience, from booklovers to pubcrawlers.

And it leaves me wondering why is The Bookworm the only store I have found to encompass music and food and alcohol and games and a lending library and a bookstore and a place for writers to read and discuss their work and a film festival and god knows what else Alexandra Pearson will come up with?

It could be reason enough to move to China--unless of course The Bookworm comes to Bangkok...


Tokyo Ern said...

Well hey, my company has decided to transfer me out of my current department (database) and am being sent back to the book store!! What a happy camper I shall be to handle books instead of their data again.

Janet Brown said...

You have achieved Right Livelihood again--congratulations!!!

Kim said...

I would live in a place like this if it existed in the States!

janet brown said...

You know--I think there needs to be this model in the States..EBBCO comes closest and maybe the Tattered Cover, but they are both bigger than is rational and they don't encompass the library idea (which is by subscription--not free) and the music and pub game aspect. There's an inclusiveness in something like The Bookworm which puts the bookstore into a wider community.