A growing number of southern hub residents are heading out of home for ‘book cafés’, new havens for book lovers where food and beverages are served in quiet ambience along side hundreds to thousands of rare, valuable book titles.
Tens of thousands of book titles can be found at the HUB Café in the city’s Tan Binh District
Photo courtesy of Sai Gon Giai Phong
Going to the cafés have turned into a favorite past time for book enthusiasts in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ciao Books, PNC Books, SnowBell and HUB Café are among the popular gathering places for local and foreign book fans to seek new works, write essays or discuss their favorite literature.
Most book café share the same features, a spacious venue with an air conditioner, wireless internet and soft, relaxing music.
The highlights of the venues are hundreds to thousands of books of all genres and languages stacked up on numerous book shelves around the areas.
The café is usually packed with book lovers from young students to retired workers on weekends.
Young people mostly come to read novels, comics or discuss books. Meanwhile, older visitors prefer to seek a quiet space to immerse themselves in novels, research books and newspapers.
Different from other trendy coffee shops which attract customers with modern upbeat songs, only soft music and whispers between groups of friends can be heard at book cafés.
“Stepping into the shop, you can see that everyone is gluing their eyes on something with words,” Tinh, a resident of district 5, said. “The staff also makes hardly any le noise and the instrumental music is really soft to the point you can still hear the noise of the air conditioners in the corner of the room.”
“Finding a quiet place to relax with books is really not easy in this noisy city,” Linh, a student from the University of Economics in HCMC told Sai Gon Giai Phong (Saigon Liberated) newspaper.
“It also takes time to borrow books from the libraries but it doesn’t guarantee you can find those that are hot in the market right now,” she said.
“I only have enough money to buy a cup of ice coffee but then I will be able to read any book to my heart’s content,” Tam, a local college student said.
The coffee shop chain PCN Books is a familiar name for young book café goers for its inexpensive prices and a wide variety of newly updated works.
Its outlet in Phu My Hung Urban Area in District 7, home to large number of South Korean families, also offers an abundance of Korean-language books and magazines.
But HUB Café is considered the book café with the largest book collection. Located in Tan Binh District, the café offers up to tens of thousands of book titles on offer on a daily basis with topics ranging from philosophy, literature, history to economics.
Book cafés also attract visitors by playing host to book discussions, book lover clubs, book debut events and class reunions.
But local book lovers have also been disheartened by a number of coffee shops which claimed themselves book cafés but use books as some mere display items for their shops.
A café on Tran Quoc Thao, District 3, only comprises a few small shelves holding dust-covered, old books. Most visitors to the dimly-lit shop spend most of their time chatting in loud voice, paying little attention to the books.
Most book café also serve food along with drinks for customers, causing the venues to be engulfed in all kinds of smell from the food.
Also, quite a number of visitors come to the venues for different reasons rather than books. Some come for free internet browsing, avoiding the traffic while others seek the shops just to be considered “intellectual.”
“It’s not easy to run a book café,” Phung Tuan Dung, owner of the Dom Dom Café said. “You need to be genuinely interested in books and have the desire to share the knowledge with the people.”