Black, White, and Read All Over: Books in Beijing

Black, White, and Read All Over: Books in Beijing
By Fred Dintenfass ,

One issue many foreigners face in Beijing, and even worse in other areas of China, is the lack of English language books. Many of us take refuge in books, and in the loud, crowded, manic, hustle and bustle that is China that need for the solace a book offers grows even stronger. Unfortunately, getting quality English language reading material can be almost as hard as finding refried beans.

English books certainly do exist, the bicycle bookcarts outside of Beida and Qinghua Universities almost always have a selection of Donald Trump and Jack Welch books and, bizarrely, a quite good selection of Haruki Murakami novels in English. You can and should bargain and if you do it well you can come away with Trump's “Making the Deal” for 15 kuai.

If you want wish to read something not written by a manic Western capitalist you can often find a collection of classics in the English section of the bigger bookstores. Unlike the more recent titles which usually start at anywhere from 60-90 kuai for a mass-market paperback the classics run you closer to 20 or 30 Yuan. Dickens, James, and Tolstoy are all available.

But what do you do if you've read all those and want something a little more recent? In Beijing there are a couple of bookstores that carry a larger selection of English language books.

The Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore on Wangfujing has a great selection of newer paperbacks from mysteries to contemporary fiction as well as well stocked cooking, biography, and travel book sections. The prices aren't cheap – what you would pay in the West – but the selection is wider and better than any other foreign bookstore in Beijing. They also have an English language website which allows you to search their stock before you go.

Another favorite for expat book lovers is The Bookworm. Located in Sanlitun just half a block from Sanlitun Village (the Apple Store and all that) The Bookworm has it all: (slightly overpriced) food, frequent author talks, a few shelves of well selected China literature, and a giant lending library. An individual 6 month membership costs 200yuan and allows you to borrow 2 books for 2 weeks at a time. The selection of borrowable books is impressive and amusing; you can find everything from the Bourne trilogy to dated psychology books. Even when there aren't readings it's usually packed with foreigners drinking wine and pecking away at their MacBook Pros.

Another similar option nearby is Le Petit Gourmand, just southwest of the 3.3 Shopping Center. In addition to good French food (I recommend the salad with warm brie and apples) and a nice porch to eat it on, Le Petit Gourmand is ringed all the way around with bookshelves stacked with books available for the borrowing. The selection is not as good as The Bookworm and the organization leads a lot to be desired but you can find all sorts of treasures from Indira Gandhi’s autobiography to breastfeeding guides. The terms are similar to the 'Worm’s except the price is 300 for a yearlong membership. They don't have a website but they do have their own Facebook group.

If you really want to put some effort into it you can go Beijing's public libraries. This can be a little complicated so we're going to devote a full article to this soon. We understand the desperate yearn you have for English language books and we're here to help you.

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