September 13, 2017: The famous Argentinian essayist and poet Jorge Luis Borges once said: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”. While there are more than one layer of meaning to this excellent quote, if we focus on its literal interpretation, then Saigon, Vietnam would have a Paradise installed right by the City Post Office – on the Nguyễn Văn Bình book street.
First open to the public in early September 2016, Saigon’s book street has since been referred to as a ‘paradise’ for book lovers, and so far, it has been living up to its reputation. Boasting a length of over 100 meters, Nguyễn Văn Bình book street is not only the longest but also presumably the most diversified of its kind. The street is made up of many kiosks measuring from 3 to 4 meters in width placed side by side.
Each kiosk belongs to a specific publisher or bookstore looking to promote their products, which range from literary publications and magazines to reference books and comics. Items on the shelves cover quite a broad spectrum of genres, such as fictions, non-fictions, travel writings, or poetry, so it is almost guaranteed that anyone can find something for themselves. My favorite kiosk, however, is one that sells old books and postcards for next to nothing, and collectors are to be found lingering around it hoping to find some of their favorite out-of-print materials.
Apart from being a splendid outdoor library, Nguyễn Văn Bình book street also serves as a gathering spot for book enthusiasts. Near the end of the street lies a reading area offering comfortable chairs and sofas for you to sit back and enjoy your book. This place is often filled to the brim with readers, young and old, absorbed in their books for hours on end. They are generally friendly, from my personal experience, and after a few minutes of breaking the ice, most people are willing to have a little chat about whatever topic that comes to mind. Occasionally, these reading spaces are used to hold many interesting activities like book talks by experts or inspirational figures or art and cultural workshops by numerous artists. The most recent activity that I had a chance to partake in was a calligraphy workshop and it was amazing to get to interact directly with the hosting artists who would have otherwise been distanced from the audience had they performed on a stage.
In a sprawling metropolitan like Ho Chi Minh city – Saigon, entertainment is in great demand and a vast array of recreational places are established to meet the ever-growing need. Yet, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, the image of a calm street full of books still manages to stand out. Why? Because Nguyễn Văn Bình street doesn’t just give its visitors books, but more importantly a place for them to come together and share their knowledge and experiences, and ultimately the one thing those who choose to set foot on such a street have in common – the love for reading.
In the first half of this year, the book street hosted over 1.2 million local and foreign visitors, and saw book sales of nearly 1 million U.S. dollars.
A 220-meter street in Ho Chi Minh City’s district 7 in Vietnam is going to be will become a new pedestrian-only book street next month.
Along the street, 20 stalls and one mobile library will be erected by Vietnam’s leading publishers, distributors and libraries which will hold relevant exhibitions and auctions regularly.