Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shopping for English books in Shanghai

When I was first in China, teaching English in Xi'an in 93/94, the English book pickings were slim indeed. The selection was limited to Signet and Bantam classics, and focused on books that called into question Western society. So lots of Dickens, but no Trollope. There were also copied versions of books that were bound like the coursework you used to get at Kinko's. There were so few books available that I believe my co-teacher and I bought all of them and still traded for them with other teachers and visiting back-packers.

So, the bookstores in Shanghai (Garden Books and the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore) look wonderful to me. Yes the number of volumes is about that of a 1987 Waldenbooks, but the quality of the books is quite high, with current hard-covers and trade paperbacks in abundance. And really, this is English bookstore in China, you can't expect Powells. I didn't purchase any as I brought more than I can conceivably read, but I was tempted by a mass market Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

What's that you say? Mass market? A number of books available in the USA only in trade can be had in the mass market format here in China, and other markets too I imagine. I suppose the publishers did the math and found that adding a third edition in the US would not adequately increase net purchase, but I for one would pay eight bucks for many books that I would not pay sixteen.

It is also worth noting that there is quite a bit of open-mindedness about the books available. There are a number of books that take a critical look at China, including the China Fantasy, that are readily available. So good for China.

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