【明報專訊】It may be my wishful bias, but indie bookshops seem to be striving these days. On any fine weekend, it is common to find readers from all walks of life huddled up in cosy reading corners, their faces pressed against the shop front glass, musing over the titles they have just encountered. Parents and young kids circle tables of children's magazines, stocking up on items to secretly read behind the mandatory Zoom lesson screens in the coming months. Steep in the global pandemic, work and studies have been displaced. Artificial communities like schools and workplaces are temporarily paralysed. More than ever, people are left with a space, or perhaps vacuum, to wander on their own, looking for new inspirations and companions who actually share their interests. If this was a movie, it is as if someone has set up the bookshops long before, waiting for the characters to settle in when time comes.
Increasingly, indie bookshops serve as multi-functional spaces — a hub for like-minded people to meet, interact, and connect. Art and Culture Outreach (ACO) (艺鵠), one of Hong Kong's oldest, runs a separate exhibition space in the same building from where it operates. The space features artworks reflective of our current times and society, mirroring the choices of books at the shop.
Book Punch (一拳書館), a more recently opened venue in Sham Shui Po, extends its support to local farm produce and businesses. Instead of offering discounts for large purchases, the bookseller gives away locally-grown vegetables, food products, or handicrafts by different non-profits, advocating a sustainable ecosystem among people with similar philosophies. English-book lovers will be delighted by their half-priced "second-hand books", often in pristine condition except for a small marker-dot at the edge. These flawed copies are excessive prints produced by publishers to lower the total printing cost. To prevent oversupply, these copies are slightly "tarnished" before being released into the market as secondhand. Judging from how light the scars are, publishers must have been eaten alive by guilt from vandalising books. Thanks to them, readers can now enjoy a joyful selection at very affordable prices.
For readers looking solely for English books, visit Bleak House Books (清明堂) in San Po Kong. Quaint and tastefully furnished, the space is a delight to read in, especially on sunny days when the dark, chestnut, wooden shelves are accentuated under the warm rays. Part bookshop and part community space, Bleak House Books has hosted many poetry and creative workshops in the past. Even at the absence of such events, the space is still a sanctuary for like-minded readers to enjoy some tranquil reading time together. Special tips — visit the shop on Tuesday and speak to the shopkeeper. You may be surprised.
The Guardian reported that UK bookshops have defied COVID and recorded the highest numbers (of shops) in seven years. I do not hold official figures in Hong Kong. But I hope the colourful indie bookshops will continue to foster many encounters among curious people. After all, Notting Hill wouldn't be the movie we remember if not for the interactions that happen in the shop.
Mona C. has a strong appetite for stories. Feed her enough.