Hong Kong's best indie bookstores
Hong Kong often gets flack for not having the refined literary culture of Taipei or Beijing and if you were to judge the city’s often uninspiring chain bookstores, you might agree.
But the bestseller-stocked behemoths don’t tell the full story.
A growing number of independent bookshops with thoughtful titles, committed owners and regular events are making their mark on the city’s cultural and literary scenes. Here’s our pick of the best.
Flow Books and Music
It’s always a good sign when a bookstore is literally overflowing with books. That’s certainly the case with Flow, where bags full of books cascade down the stairs leading up to its two floors of second-hand books. Beloved by Central office workers and Soho expats looking for a dose of that musty bookstore smell, Flow has a vast range of titles on everything from fiction to self-help and cooking. The prices are surely among the cheapest in the city, too, which makes it a worthwhile destination even if you’re not in the area.
Opening hours: Daily noon-7:30 p.m. 1/F, 40 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel +852 2964 9483.
Basheer Design Books
The graffiti and sticker art that greets you in the stairwell up to Basheer offer a clue about what lies behind its doors: thousands of books on art, architecture, design, film, advertising, fashion and photography.
The selection is large and comprehensive, but not particularly well organized, so be prepared to ask for help if you want to find anything.
Another downside is that, despite the bookstore’s bright, airy space, there’s nowhere to sit.
Opening hours: Daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. 1/F, Island Building, 439 Hennessey Road, Causeway Bay, tel +852 2126 7533.
The doyenne of Hong Kong indie bookstores has been open next to the Broadway Cinematheque since 2001, serving as a convenient crossroads for film-lovers, coffee-drinkers and readers.
While most of the books are in Chinese, there are enough English titles to keep the monoliterate happy, including plenty of good magazines, graphic novels and books published by Kubrick itself.
Art, design and accessories from local artists are for sale. The shop also plays host to occasional music performances.
Opening hours: Daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Shop H2, Prosperous Gardens, 3 Public Square Street, Yau Ma Tei, tel +852 2384 8929.
Equal parts bookstore, art gallery and event space, ACO is the spiritual heart of the Foo Tak Building, a vertical artists’ village in Wan Chai.
Its book selection is bilingual, well-curated and eclectic, with an activist and intellectual bent -- the shop’s manager Kobe Ho describes it as “sharp and radical.”
If you’re looking for French deconstructionist literature and locally produced zines, you’ll find them here.
A few chairs, a sofa and a selection of drinks -- pay what you can -- invite lingering.
Opening hours: Tues-Thurs 1-8 p.m. Fri-Sun 3-10 p.m. Mon closed. 1/F, Foo Tak Building, 365 Hennessey Road, Wan Chai, tel +852 2893 4808.
Hong Kong Reader
Hong Kong Reader’s philosophy is simple: “Our idea was that if we can create a community, we can be more than just a bookstore,” says one of its four young owners, Daniel Lee.
If the crowds it packs in for readings and discussions are any indication, this lofty bookstore has achieved its goal. With a strong selection of literature and books on the humanities, Hong Kong Reader has become an intellectual hub in the midst of Mongkok’s busiest shopping street.
Pick up something by Foucault and spend the afternoon nourishing your mind in the shop’s small café.
Opening hours: Daily 2 p.m.-midnight. 7/F, 68 Sai Yeung Choi Street, Mongkok, tel +852 2395 0031.
The Book Attic
The best thing about visiting a second-hand bookshop is the pleasure of unexpectedly stumbling across a good book. The Book Attic doesn’t disappoint.
It came into being two years ago when Jennifer Li traded a jet-setting life in the corporate world for the much quieter existence of a book lover.
“Every little town and city I visited had used bookshops, but when I came back to Hong Kong, I couldn’t find many,” says Li.
True to its name, the shop is tiny and cozy, with a few chairs and a tea corner that plays host to a monthly book club.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat noon-6 p.m. Sun closed. 1/F, 7 Amoy Street, Wan Chai, tel +852 2259 3103.
Don’t let its small size fool you: this small bookstore, in the lobby of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, is one of the most interesting in Hong Kong.
Run by MCCM Creations, one of the city’s most exciting small presses, there is an especially strong focus on performing and visual arts, as well as history, architecture, photography and Hong Kong culture.
“It’s about the process of discovery,” says MCCM’s Mary Chan, summing up the idea behind both the shop and the publisher.
Opening hours: Daily noon-8 p.m.. G/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, tel +852 3105 0391.
Peoples’ Recreation Community
Located on the city’s most high-rent street, hidden behind a giant billboard, is a bookstore whose politics run decidedly to the left.
Don’t be fooled by PRC’s cheeky name or Communist imagery: this is not a place to go if you want to stock up on reading material for your next trip to mainland China.
Specializing in books about Chinese politics and society, PRC has lately become a destination for mainland tourists looking for books on sensitive topics that have run afoul of Beijing’s state censors.
There’s a handful of tables and a café selling locally roasted coffee, too.
Opening hours: Daily 9 a.m.-midnight. 1/F, 18 Russell Street, Causeway Bay, tel+852 2836 0016.
Point to Life
Owned by architect Anson Chan, Point to Life is part bookstore, part design showcase.
In addition to an excellent selection of books on art, design and culture (organized by publisher, which makes for surprisingly fun browsing) there are plenty of back issues of design mags like ppaper, from Taiwan, and Hong Kong’s IdN.
This is also the best place to find books, artwork and accessories by emerging designers, many of whom work in Innocentre studios just down the hall from the bookshop.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Occasional Sat, call for info. Closed Sun. 1/F, Innocentre, 72 Tat Chee Avenue, Yau Yat Chuen, tel +852 3188 2807.