HK Reader: Peace within Noise

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image (2) Billboard of Hong Kong Reader among others (above) and entrance to the bookstore (below) (Photo by Eileen)

HONG KONG_ Bustling streets fill the space between rows of shops, as buried under dazzling billboards and signs. Such a scene is typical of Bang Kok, where it is difficult to distinguish the plain, blue sign of “HK Reader”, an independent academic bookstore on seventh floor of one building. 

Quiet, yet cozy, the bookstore makes a striking contrast to the hustling streets downstairs. Nearly four-fifths of the 800-square-feet space is devoted to books, neatly lined on shelves according to categories; while the remaining makes the reading corner.

Bell jingles on the door, welcoming every coming customer. Though, usually there are not many of them.

Opened in 2007, Hong Kong Reader was co-founded by three graduates from Chinese University of Hong Kong. Unlike many other upstairs bookstores, it specializes in humanities and social science titles rather than bestsellers. It sells secondhand books as well. Additionally, it holds reading clubs, literary salons and guest lectures regularly, providing a platform for like-minded people to communicate and exchange thoughts.


Daniel Lee, 31, one owner of Hong Kong Reader (Photo by Eileen)

 “Literary salons and reading clubs in university were our initial inspirations,” says Daniel Lee, 31, one of the co-founders, who majored in philosophy in his undergraduate years and sociology as a postgraduate. “We want to bring more people to read, not just students, but society as a whole.”

They were aware that the goal was ambitious, nearly impossible to achieve through the sole efforts of the three of them, but they still think it is worth their perseverance.

“The bookstore is a starting point, through which we can connect people of similar interest, establish a community and gradually promote cultural and academic thoughts, just as its name indicates,” Lee says.

Hong Kong Reader, also known as “Xuyan (序言) Bookstore” bears three layers of meaning: Firstly, “Xuyan”, meaning “preface” in Chinese, suggests a starting point in reading journeys; secondly, it implies the initial step for promoting cultural and academic thoughts; thirdly, “Xuyan” resembles “juxian (聚賢)” in Chinese pronunciation, meaning gather of talents.

Having operated for six years, the bookstore has already attracted a large readership – 3,500 members by now – and is attracting more. It has also held plenty of activities with three to four regular activities per month.

There has been an increase in Hong Kong’s readership throughout the decade. The phenomenon might be attributed to the rise in public concern about social issues, Lee says. Relevant publications have also witnessed a concurrent increase. Under such a trend, he is quite confident and optimistic about further achievement of their original goal.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot during the past six years,” Lee says.

Their future plan is to further promote mutual permeation between the academic field and the public. “It would be difficult, but we’ll keep on doing,” he adds.