Jared and I always find our way to a bookstore. Sometimes it is planned out, but more often than not we happen upon one and cannot resist going in to see what sits on the shelves waiting to be discovered.
We have done this on every vacation we have been on, and in every country we have visited. We happened to wander into the oldest bookstore in the world when we were in Lisbon, Portugal, and we didn’t even know it had that claim to fame until a few hours after we left. We have spent many Sunday afternoons roaming around Barnes and Noble, each in our own sections, making our own stacks to take home. What can I say? We like books! A dear friend of ours refuses to help us move any more because of the insane number of heavy book boxes we tote from one home to the next. We each limited ourselves to one box of books to bring to Korea. It was a heartbreaking decision trying to decide which stories would remain in storage and which would accompany me to our new home.
Despite my careful selection for my one box of books, I began to feel anxious that I hadn’t purchased a new book in awhile. I have visited a few bookstores in Korea, but their English language section was always a little lacking, especially for my literary tastes. However, I had read great things about a chain of Korean bookstores, Kyobo. One rainy, morning I decided I simply had to browse around some shelves and I set out to see what Kyobo had to offer.
There are multiple locations throughout the country; however, I chose to visit the Gangnam location. (Line 9, Sinnonhyeon Station, Exit 6) The store is actually quite large. There are two levels, one for all the books and one for all the games, notebooks, and trinkets that are now present in most chain bookstores. The book level is organized like a doughnut; the center contains the elevators, bathrooms and a few discount shelves, while the outer circle contains all the books. When I arrived I was able to spot the English books quickly, but did a circuit around the store first before settling in. The sections are labeled by letters (Section A, Section B) and then below that marked as the genre in both English and Hangul.
The English book section was the largest I’ve seen in Korea so far. It contained a decent selection of genres. There was an impressive amount of cookbooks, and I stared happily at the three full shelves of Lonely Planet travel guides for several minutes. I didn’t see much nonfiction (biographies, histories), but I don’t tend to search as hard for those genres, so I may have missed it. They had tables of new fiction, and an entire wall filled with classics. On one of the lower shelves was a decent sized collection of leather-bound books with gorgeous covers; I was very tempted to buy some old favorites with pretty new covers. Those marketing guys know just how to play me.
Although I’ve been trying to branch out lately, I’m a classics girl. I happily settled myself on the floor in front of my beloved authors and started pulling books off the shelf. Then I realized that something was horribly wrong. I looked at the the beautiful, pristine books in my hands, and realized that they were all wrapped in plastic. I looked back and at the shelf and realized that most of the books, even paperbacks, had a plastic covering. How are you supposed to know if you want to buy the book if you can’t open it up?! I always like to read the first page or two, flip through the table of contents, and scan through the pages to see if the allure of the cover carries through to the words on the pages. I chose one book and asked an employee if I could open it. She kindly used her white gloved hands (all employees wear white gloves to handle the books), to slowly peel open the plastic. She let me look through the novel and then carefully replaced the plastic covering. It was a slow process. I realized that I would not be able to have my usual book shopping experience if I had to carefully unwrap and rewrap each novel I wanted to look at.
Not all the books were wrapped in plastic, just most of the ones I wanted to look at! The most frustrating ones were the cookbooks. That’s just nonnegotiable; you must look in a cookbook before you buy it. I appreciate the idea of buying a book and knowing that it has been cared for and kept in good condition by the store, but it made choosing a book too difficult. Most of the books were on the expensive side. I knew that even paying shipping costs, I could order them online more cheaply than buying them at the store. I did find an anthology of travel short stories that was on sale, and I happily snatched it up; it was not wrapped in plastic.
The second level of the store had a large selection of games, children’s books, and office supplies. I, of course, bought some pens and post-its. I know I’ve written about it before here, but the office supplies in this country are far superior to what the US has to offer. The variety, the quality, and the massive amount of materials makes me so happy; Korea is simply fueling my addiction.
All in all, it was a fun outing; just being around books lifted my spirits. I don’t think I will rely on Kyobo for all my book buying needs, but it is nice to know it is there when I need the instant gratification of buying a new book.
PS. Kyobo had several signs indicating that photography is not allowed. However, I wanted to get a few pictures for this post; so, I just relied on my iPhone to surreptitiously snap a few photos for you. Watch out, I’m a rebel.