Booklovers enjoy the airy atmosphere at the Light Space Xinhua Bookstore in the Aegean Place shopping center in Minhang District.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic,” said Stephen King, the popular American author of horror, suspense and fantasy novels.
His observation might be an apt description of the ongoing Shanghai Book Fair, which is highlighting the magic of the written word in all aspects of life.
The fair, which ends on Tuesday, gives the floor to publishers and bookshop owners encouraging more people to read.
“The book fair has always responded to evolving reading habits, lifestyle and market trends,” said Xu Jiong, head of the Shanghai Press and Publication Bureau. “The promotion of reading should not be limited only to booklovers.”
Reading, of course, is undergoing bifurcation, branching into a competition between traditional books and e-books.
The onset of the digital age has forced many traditional bookshops to implement creative ways of attracting new readers while keeping their loyal customers.
They install cafes, sell crafts and adopt eye-catching decor. A book on floral design might come gift-wrapped in box with a flower bouquet. Coffee may be served in cups bearing quotes from a book, which can be ordered. Bookshops peddle books on livestreaming sites usually specializing in cosmetics.
All this new marketing flare is reflected at this year’s book fair.
“The coronavirus epidemic has pushed the fair to undergo an unprecedented transformation,” Xu said. “We need to break boundaries in order to upgrade the publishing industry.”
At the fair’s “sleeping library” section, books like Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” and American poet Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” share space with pleasant aromatics, music and art to create the ideal environment for a bedtime read.
The two partners behind the “sleeping library” are Shanghai Salian Bookstore and Atour Hotel, which have worked together to build reading areas in Atour hotels and set up two-week flash bookstores in the city’s shopping malls.
At Atour hotels, patrons can take a book home from the reading area and return it to any of the chain’s sites.
“We also plan to work with tourism companies to create scenarios for reading in the scenic outdoors,” said Wu Hao, manager of Salian Bookstore. “We want to bring reading into forestlands and lakefronts.”
Books also are finding a place at the dinner table.
One of the fair’s new features is Writer’s Gourmet Menu. The seven-episode talk show series, with one segment aired each day of the fair, takes authors to seven restaurants specializing in different styles of cuisine. Over dinner, the authors discuss literature.
“It’s great to see,” said science-fiction writer Chen Qiufan, who was invited to discuss what aliens might eat while enjoying a gourmet meal at Jade Mansion in the IFC Mall in Pudong. “A book fair can ‘graft’ literature onto dining, merging literature and cuisine. This is a nice beginning.”
Bookstores around the city are serving as branches of the fair outside of the main venue at the Shanghai Exhibition Center. At the center, online reservations and restricted capacity have been imposed because of the coronavirus epidemic. Branch activities give more people the opportunity to participate.
“I’ve been going to the fair every year since it started,” said Wang Jianjun, 79, as he walked out of the bookstore in the Jing’an Kerry Center with his 12-year-old granddaughter. “But I was a bit slow to understand the online booking this year, and only day tickets for Tuesday were left when my granddaughter finally helped me. But I didn’t want to wait until Tuesday. It’s kind of a ceremonial thing for me to see the fair on its first day. So we decided to visit the branch venues in mall bookstores near home.”
Shopping malls have long been bookstore buddies. They were among the first to offer help when brick-and-mortar bookshops hit their lows in 2012, providing space for low or even no rent. In return, the malls have benefited from culturally minded customers attracted to the mall by its bookshops.
Over the years, the partnership between bookstores and malls has become more integrated.
Tian Yimiao, a music writer and scholar, autographs her new book “I, Sea and Library” for fans at a book fair event hosted by Duoyun Bookstore. The bookstore on the 52nd floor of Shanghai Tower is the highest in the city.
One of the most successful collaborations is between Light Space Xinhua Bookstore in the Aegean Place shopping center in Minhang District.
It’s a marriage of books and architecture. The store interior was designed by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, best known for his poetic melding of light and space.
The exquisitely designed interior features a spiral stairway, arty bookshelves and cozy seating areas that transformed the more than 70-year-old shop into a cultural landmark.
“We host regular meetings at Aegean Place,” said Chen Yi, executive director of Light Space. “When we have themed book events, we hold them outside our bookshop or in other places in the shopping center, like the atrium. We also contribute our resources to help when Aegean holds cultural events.”
Chen cited a three-day event last year featuring illustrated books held in the mall’s gazebo every evening. It was so successful that the event was extended to several months. The event was suspended due to the epidemic, but Chen said she expects it to restart later in the year.
Her shop had annual foot traffic of nearly a million before the pandemic. She said customer numbers will gradually return as life in the city returns to normal.
“Aegean’s developer and our parent company wanted this shop to be more culturally inviting than shops usually found in shopping malls,” she said. “Commercial complexes used to be focused only on consumer demand, but now many of them are also addressing spiritual needs.”
People who visit Light Space often patronize restaurants in the mall. People who come to see the center’s grand music fountain often stop by the bookshop.
Light Space also works with other shops in the mall. It created a Marvel bookshelf when a Marvel movie was being screened in the cinema next door.
Duoyun Bookstore on the 52nd floor of Shanghai Tower
Duoyun Bookstore, on the 52nd floor of Shanghai Tower, the highest in the city, is another example of a cultural site that goes beyond just books.
The shop sponsors reading clubs specializing in books by local authors or with themes related to Shanghai.
“We have been a branch venue for the book fair for two years now,” said He Xiaomin, public relations manager at parent company Duoyun Books. “With our location, we can attract more people to join the fair’s events and provide a cultural experience for customers in this commercial complex.”
More bookstores are following suit.
A new outlet of China Publishing Bookstore opened on the first day of the book fair at a commercial complex in Fengxian District. Its design integrates elements of old waterfront towns with modern design concepts.
Japanese chain Tsutaya, which runs 1,400 bookstores in Japan, is expected to open in century-old Columbia Circle in Changning District by the end of this year.
The chain’s first shop in Shanghai is based on the concept of “lifestyle navigation” of its flagship store in Tokyo, fusing books, videos and music albums.
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