Melbourne City of Lit meets Bucheon’s Yong Books
In this series, run in partnership with the Melbourne City of Literature Office, we get to know some of the bookstores in the UNESCO Cities of Literature network. Today we visit Bucheon’s Yong Books, where the store’s transcription clubs— in which members write out sentences from their favourite books then they discuss and dissect them—have continued through Covid, and where owner Park Yonghee has plans to start a reading academy, magazine and book fair.
In Yeokgok, a mostly residential area in Bucheon, Korea, there’s an unassuming but bustling bookstore tucked in among the buildings. Yong Books was originally located in nearby Seoul, but after owner Park Yonghee’s mother fell ill he moved himself and the store to be closer to her—and in doing so became the centre of a growing community.
‘Back in 2018, Yong Books opened in an area where there wasn’t likely to have a bookshop,’ explains Jung Soyoung from the Bucheon City of Literature Office. ‘In a neighbourhood that there are few cultural resources for locals to enjoy, the opening of Yong Books satisfied residents’ thirst.’
Park and Jung are speaking to us over Zoom from the store itself, with Jung translating Park’s words as well as putting forward her own. ‘I sell both new books and second-hand books,’ Park explains. He originally focused mainly on humanities and sociology but, as Jung tells it, ‘one day a grandmother came to the bookshop and she was rebuking him, saying, “The books are so difficult to read,”’ she says with a laugh. Park still focuses on humanities texts, however. ‘I talk with customers, they start talking about their lives, and it’s easy to talk about the subject in humanities books,’ he says. ‘So it’s easier to be connected with the customers.’
Over the three years the store has been located in Bucheon, its community has grown through a number of events and clubs. Yong Books hosts both writing clubs and transcription clubs. The latter is a popular activity in Korea—members write out sentences from their favourite books, then they discuss and dissect them.
Prior to Covid, the store hosted a long line of live events including author readings, exhibitions and drawing classes. While many of these were put on hold across 2020 and 2021, the transcription and writing groups continued to meet online.
Jung is a member of one of the writing groups and explains how each one has its own personality and atmosphere. Everyone starts by turning off their phone and focusing completely on their work for an hour, whether it be essays, fiction or poetry. After that, they gather together and talk through their writing.
It’s the people Yong Books attracts that makes the bookstore so special, not just in the dedicated groups, but in the regular stream of customers. One of the most memorable customer interactions for Park was a series of visits from a man who was methodically collecting every book in a long series. When Park asked why, the man didn’t hesitate: ‘In the future, if I’m hospitalised, I’m going to read these books in the hospital,’ he replied.
‘This is a very comfortable, down-to-earth place for people in the community,’ says Park. Yong Books is within a stone’s throw of the local market, so it has become part of people’s routine to go shopping ‘and on the way their home, they drop by this bookshop and take a rest and have fun’. People don’t just stop by to browse the books—people like to have conversations about their lives, about what they’ve been reading.
‘Many neighbourhood book shops are appearing,’ says Jung. ‘In Korea, usually, women in their 20s and 30s are the voracious readers.’ But, after Park opened his neighbourhood store, ‘he found out that these small places attract people from all ages and from different professions’.
Yong Books is constantly evolving. The writing and transcribing groups keep increasing in number as more people want to participate, and Park has ambitious goals for the future, including creating a local magazine, a reading academy and a book fair.
Though he has big plans for the store, the thing he loves most about it is the reciprocal relationship all bookstores have with their communities. ‘Everybody can read books, and bookshops cannot survive without readers. So that is the most special part of running a bookshop.’
‘Books and bookstores are not simply about making money,’ says Jung. ‘This one-of-a-kind small space provides various activities for all age groups. It has become a unique but special area for the people in Yeokgok. Those who visit the bookstore are constantly striving for more in life. Bookshops have a clear goal in enabling people to live culturally enriched lives. For these reasons, the Yong Books owner has been thanked by customers for creating this space, which cultivates community.’
Tags: City of Lit bookshops