Gone are the days when your best bet for picking up an English novel in Beijing was browsing through the limited selection at the Foreign Language Bookstore in Wangfujing. With the availability of online bookstores and kindles, accessing foreign books has never been easier. Call us old fashioned however, but we prefer the feeling of holding a real book; no kindle can ever replace that satisfying sound of flicking over a crispy, new page and lining your bookshelf with your latest literature conquest. Lucky for us, the availability of books in the English language – both fiction and non-fiction – has mushroomed exponentially in recent years, with gems available for the taking at a growing number of newly opened bookstores, cafes and even books on the curb. Here’s a basic guide on getting your literary feed in the capital.
1) Page OneView In Map
In our opinion the best resource for foreign books in the capital and the closest thing to a Waterstones or Barnes & Noble in China, Page One has become an indispensable resource for anyone wishing to stock up on fiction, non-fiction and reference books in the English language. There’s been much buzz and anticipation over the opening of Page One’s Sanlitun branch, and its recent new opening has not disappointed. Spread over two floors, the store’s book collection consists mainly of classic and contemporary novels, non-fiction and reference books including a huge selection of cooking and art books. If the store in Sanlitun is a little too crowded for your liking, head over to the Indigo branch (another branch also available at China World Mall in Jianguomen), which although smaller, also stocks a very decent selection of foreign reads.
Add: Building 2, Sanlitun South Village, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Tel: 010 6417 6626
Opening hours: daily, 10:00-22:00
2) The Bookworm
Another favorite for expat book lovers is The Bookworm. Located in Sanlitun just half a block from Sanlitun Village, The Bookworm has it all: (slightly overpriced) food, frequent author talks, an annual literary festival, a few shelves of well selected China literature, and a giant lending library. An individual 6 month membership costs 200 RMB or 300 for one year and allows you to borrow two books for up to two 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.
3) Xidan Books BuildingView In Map
Although this giant bookstore (the biggest one in Beijing) features an overwhelming selection of Chinese-language books, the basement level has an area dedicated solely to English-language books. The selection is nothing to write home about – classic English literature abounds – but you may be lucky enough to pick up the odd gem from time to time. Perhaps noteworthy to mention, the English-language section stocks a number travel guides and reference books. Only recommended if you happen to be in the Xidan area or are also looking to buy a few Chinese-language books, English-teaching material or dictionaries.
Add: 17 Xichang'an Jie, Xicheng District, Beijing
Opening hours: daily, 08:30-21:00
Tel: 010 6607 8477
Getting there: take Subway Line 1 to Xidan, Exit C
4) Wangfujing Foreign Language BookstoreView In Map
Very over-rated for the fact that the building’s name is “foreign language bookstore”, this store is fine as a last resort if you’re a newcomer and haven’t yet figured out how to get to the Page One store or Bookworm. That being said, the third floor stocks a similar collection of English-language books as the Xidan Books Building, with a heavy emphasis on classics and easy reads like the Twilight Saga.
Add: 218 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Opening hours: daily, 08:00-17:00
Tel: 010 6513 2842; 6525 2592
5) Beijing Star Kids Children’s BookstoreView In Map
This store, with branches in Wangjing and Shunyi, is a great resource for the young ones. The store features a good selection of imported children’s books, with everything from hard and soft cover picture books to novels suitable for kids up to the age of 16.
Add: Rm. 2803, Bldg D, Xingyuan International Apartment, 222 Wangjing Xiyuan, Beijing
Tel: 010 8472 7131; 136 9114 3572
Opening hours: 09:00-18:00 (Mon-Fri); 10:00-17:00 (Sat-Sun)
On the first Saturday of each month, a board game and book swap event takes place at the Brussels Restaurant and Bar (4 Gongti Beilu). The event used to be held at the Sequoia Café in the Jianwai Diplomatic Compound but it has since shut its doors. Many cafes in the Gulou area also brag bookshelves with hit-or-miss selections of English books. Next time you’re sipping on a latte in the area, make sure to scan the bookshelves as you never know what you may find. Another great resource for catching up on the latest trends in world literature is the Bookworm Literary Festival and the Capital M Literary Festival, held around March each year. Not only can you attend lectures by well-established and up-and-coming writers, but you may also be able to pick up copies personally signed by the authors!
Finally, a more dubious option is to pick up a “pirated” book off a vendor on the curb. Book peddlers selling a limited selection of new and classic English-language books and classics can be found at random locations throughout the city. Standard stock among all these peddlers seems to include novels by Haruki Marukami, Paulo Coehlo and Gabriel García Márquez. There have been sightings of such peddlers in the Houhai and Gulou area, outside the Lama Temple, in Wudaokou and other student/foreigner areas. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t pay more than 10 RMB per book (the print quality is low but you get what you pay for).
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