Bookstore travels from courtyard to main street

Updated: 2015-03-18 07:57

By Peter Goff(China Daily USA)

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I'm from Dublin, Ireland, and after I graduated from university in 1992, I worked as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines in Central Europe and Africa. I moved to Hong Kong in 2000, and worked there as the foreign editor for a local newspaper, The Standard.

Around that time I caught the China bug. I was struck by how dynamic China was as it was going through a period of such frenetic change. It had just won the Olympic bid and was about to become part of the WTO. It was developing rapidly on every level and its emergence was having a massive global impact. It was a tremendously exciting place and so I decided to learn some Chinese and stick around.

Initially I worked as a journalist in Beijing, too, for the South China Morning Post and later as a China correspondent for the Telegraph in London. In 2002, my friend Alexandra Pearson came across a big book collection that was up for grabs and put the books in a friend's courtyard in Sanlitun North Street.

English-language books were hard to come by at the time in Beijing. So the collection was much welcomed. In that venue The Bookworm was a small but cozy place and quickly became a spot for readers and writers to meet.

In 2005, we moved into the current location and finally there we had something of a more permanent home. In 2006, I moved to Chengdu in Sichuan province to open and run that Bookworm, and in 2007 I went east to Suzhou in Jiangsu province, to start that branch. These cities were ideal for our concept given their strong literary traditions, tea-house culture and laid-back atmosphere.

Initially the vast majority of our guests were international. But over the years we have seen a great increase in the number of Chinese friends who frequent Lao Shu Chong, as it is known in Chinese. We hope to be a space that brings people together, a bridge between East and West, a platform for constructive debate and discussion, and a venue that celebrates literature and ideas.

All over the world independent bookshops have really struggled in recent years, since the advent of e-books and online retailing.

To survive now, most bookshops have to be a bit more creative in their approach and not rely on diminishing book sales to pay the bills. For us that involves a year-round event program that includes readings, discussions, theater, comedy, live music and screenings.

Increasingly, with so many books being published each year, authors find they should promote their writing by touring their books and meeting the readers. It has not been customary in China for writers to take this approach. But in recent years, salons and cafes all across the country have started to develop this kind of programming.

Beyond events, the cafe element is important. Recently we have set up a small publishing house called China Bookworm Press.

The press will first focus on identifying quality contemporary Chinese literature with a view to bringing it to international audiences in translation. Second, we will look to translate some visiting international authors into Chinese in an effort to help them connect more with local readers.

The Bookworm Literary Festival is now in its ninth year. It's a great adventure to be part of it.

I recently married a lady in Sichuan and bought a small apartment in Chengdu, making it my second home after my hometown Dublin. Hopefully we could have a happy, peaceful and enjoyable life in China, and that may be called my Chinese dream.

Bookstore travels from courtyard to main street

(China Daily USA 03/18/2015 page9)