Beijing loves to read, and that is apparent in the amount of book related activities and establishments that exist in China’s capital city. From amazing book stores and low-key lending libraries to the wealth and diversity of book clubs and reading institutions. Beijing’s rich expat community has created an in-depth reading culture that has survived for several years, and this year’s literary festival highlights the city’s fascination with the written word.
The Wangfujing Foreign Language Bookstore is the largest English-language store in Beijing. It also has a few books in French, German and a handful of other languages, but the primary one is English. The entire first floor is covered in adult literature from Sci-Fi to Westerns, best sellers, local interest and even a few non-fiction sections. Less than five years ago it was impossible to find a state store selling anything other than the classics, now you can find the latest fiction books from America and Europe for a reasonable price.
The Bookworm sells a small selection of China-specific books, some of which are banned in China. They are expensive and rightly so as they have to be imported directly to the store. Sometimes the forbidden fruit does taste sweeter and there is no other place to go in town for banned literature on China.
The Xinhua Bookstore has a small English section where you’ll find safe and simple books, classics and a few non-offensive pieces of more modern literature. Books cost about ten dollars for novels and less for English learning materials, which is what most Chinese students are in the store for. Located on the third floor, you may have to ask to be pointed towards English literature as this is a predominately Chinese book store.
The Bookworm has a book club aptly named the Beijing Book Club that has been around for quite some time. You’ll find enlightened readers reading high-end literature, usually China specific or best seller fiction. The club is well respected and has an impressive member’s list.
A recent start-up, Beijing Book Smugglers is a small group that meets the first Monday of every month in a run-down, dive bar in Sanlitun.
Pass By Bar has an impressive lending library, much more useful for travelers than expats, it is famous for the large number of guide books it has accumulated over the years. The rule is you drop off three and you can take one. Not a decent deal, but if you are a backpacker you can’t afford to carry around a mini library on your back anyway.
You’ll also find a large lending library at The Bookworm, where you can either sign up for a paid membership or else talk with the staff about swapping books.