Books with bling

Updated: 2013-05-20 10:10

By Wu Ni (China Daily)

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Books with bling

The floor of the hall is smooth glass under which rows of books are neatly arranged. Wu Ni / China Daily


Stylish dealer combines Chinese and European elements to lure readers, Wu Ni reports in Shanghai.

In a time when a click of mouse can get a book delivered to your door, would anyone bother to go to a bricks-and-mortar bookstore?

The Zhongshuge Bookshop, dubbed the most beautiful bookshop in Shanghai, makes it worth paying a visit whether you need a new hardcover or not.

Located in Thames Town, a British-themed community in suburban Songjiang district, the two-story spire-roofed house blends nicely with the neighboring British-style architecture.

The doorway of the bookshop has a gothic dome, intending to impress visitors with a sense of sanctuary, according to Alex Fang, the general manager.

Books with bling

The doorway of the bookshop has a Gothic dome, to give visitors a sense of an ancient book sanctuary. Provided to China Daily

Entering the house, you can be overwhelmed by books, which fill up the dark brown shelves and space between the steps of stairs. The floor of the hall is a smooth glass under which rows of books are neatly put together as if a large bookcase has been pulled down and laid under the transparent floor.

"We are creating a sea of books," Fang says, "the reader is like a canoe drifting in the sea of books."

To escape from that sea, turn left to a secluded area where all the clamor seems to vanish. The hideaway, which looks like a labyrinth, is actually a gridlike pattern reminiscent of Jiugongge (nine-grids structure) when viewed from above. Jiugongge was the basis of urban planning in ancient China.

Each of the nine grids is a small reading room and contains books of a certain theme, such as economy, history and health. Cozy seats beside the shelves or couches at the glass curtain windows provide a perfect place to rest and read.

"We tried to add Chinese traditional elements to this European-style building because it is the very essence of Shanghai culture that Eastern and Western culture collide and interact," Fang says.

He also reveals a secret space in the labyrinth - a meditation room. The small room has only one seat, and when the door closes one feels cut off from the outside world.

"It was inspired by Steve Jobs, who would shut himself in a room and meditate when faced with difficult problems," Fang says.

But readers who want to try it should first register to become members of the bookshop through its website,

The entrance of the second floor is called the relaxation center, complete with a bathroom. On the shelves are a series of hand-sized publication called The Stories. The 50 year-old semimonthly has a long reputation of entertaining readers with short stories and folk tales. One can take a few to read in the toilet.

Despite the rare original editions of many books on art and design in the corridor of second floor, it is hard to distract from the egg-shaped reading room of the floor: Pure white bookshelves reach to the ceiling, while mirrors and illumination make the space vivid and bright.

"If the first floor is built as a private study, the second floor is to create a feeling of reading in the clouds," Fang says. "The space is for breaking the limits and inspiring creative ideas."

Books here are for young people under 25, with topics such as science fiction, puppy love and animation. No seats can be seen here and readers can rest in whatever way they feel comfortable.

There are about 40,000 books in the bookshop and 25 to 30 percent are not available in the online stores, which is one way the shop competes with virtual stores, according to Fang.

The books and the decoration cost about 10 million yuan ($1.62 million), he says.

To add charm to the bookshop, the coffee it provides is worth tasting. Fang says the coffee beans are imported from Columbia and a secret recipe makes it distinctive.

Swarms of people pose and take pictures in and outside the bookshop - many apparently have more enthusiasm for taking photos than choosing books.

But Zhang Wenqing, 28, who works in Songjiang district, enjoys reading in one of the nine grids. "The pace of life is too fast, but time seems to slow down here and I feel so relaxed sitting here reading," the young man says.

Another reader, Lyu Jianguo, who bought six books on history and biography, says: "The books are good and the only defect is that the bookshop is too far from central city."

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