Having a hard time finding that Norwegian noir novel you’ve wanted to buy? Or Sophie Calle’s photography books? Check out our picks for the best independent and specialty bookshops in Seoul…
The best selected bookshop in Seoul
There’s no elevator. Keep walking up those stairs, until you see a small flower pot on the windowsill. You’re almost there, so don’t give up. Those who know, know to find this unconventional, 21st century bookstore on the very top floor of the building. How can a 21st century bookstore exist in a building with no elevator? We'd say it’s because there are a surprisingly large number of things you can do in this small shop. They sellindependent books that are hard to find even at large bookstores, design books, and also stationary and music albums by independent producers. It also hosts a long list of various event and fairs. Besides, there's no better way to fight our 21st century lethargy than getting a little exercise, eh? Tip: don’t expect to find best sellers, or very many English books, here.
Located on the hilly streets on Haebangchon, you could easily walk past this bookshop if you weren’t keeping your eyes peeled for it. Although the space is small, the shop is jam-packed with travel photo journals and photography-related objects. While flipping through the pages of an artsy photo book, you may feel the sudden urge to run back home and pack your bags. If you do end up planning that spontaneous getaway, the independent publisher and bookshop owner offers photo workshops, as well as special events, after closing (7pm).
Former magazine editor Kim Hye-mi and her partner, artist Yu Seung-bo, opened this tiny bookshop mid-2014 with little fanfare. Tucked back amongst the low, red brick buildings south of Hongdae, Veronica Effect is filled with art books, graphic novels, children’s books, and zines. Half the store is dedicated to local artists and half is international. There’s even a shelf with vintage children’s books, like X-men comics and the Dover sticker books (yes, dear ones, our childhood is now vintage).
When What The Book? opened in 2003, English books, especially new releases, were hard to come by and pricey at that. Many long-term residents credit the store for creating enough competition to lower the price of English books at major Korean outlets. What the Book? sells both used and new volumes, and has the biggest on-site English magazine section we’ve seen yet in Korea. They’re also known for an expansive children’s section, and regularly partner with international schools to host book fairs. From their searchable online database, you can order online and select either pick-up or delivery. But we think you’ll want to pick up your purchase in-store—it’s so much fun to wander the sunlit space and browse their spacious shelves. Our one complaint? We wish they had a coffee shop so we could linger even longer.
1984 is the latest iteration of a publishing company established in 1951 and handed down from father to son to grandson, Jeon Yong-hun. Born in 1984, the youngest Jeon renamed the place not just after his birth year, but also the iconic novel by Orwell, which he says had a big influence on him. Witnessing the changes in the publishing industry first-hand, Jeon decided that publishing houses should also be places of culture and knowledge sharing. Thus, 1984 hosts lectures and performances alongside their bookshop, café, and shop. For 12,000 won, you can get a drink and a copy of Orwell’s “1984” (albeit in Korean). The shop sells lifestyle goods from local and international sources, including Australian skincare brand Aesop and American workwear brand Red Kap. Seating is plentiful, though in nice weather, the comfy outdoor cushions are highly coveted.