By Ho Jia Wen, Michelle Ye, Leanne Francis and Shaniah Shields
Book lovers are everywhere, and Hong Kong showed the sheer love its city dwellers have for books in their recent biggest annual book event, Hong Kong Book Fair.
In its thirty-third year, the Hong Kong Book Fair was a week-long fair from 19 to 25 July. Bright and early on the first day, excited readers already formed a queue and, by the end of the week, the fair recorded a million attendees. The main purchases were children, teen books and travel books.
At the exciting fair, there were 780 exhibitors from thirty-six countries and regions, providing ample exposure to both local and international titles. Nine notable Hong Kong writers were highlighted: A Nong, Chau Mat-mat, Wei Ya, Sun Wai-ling, Leong Monk-fung, Poon Ming-chu, Poon Kam-ying, the late Quenby Fung and Ho Tsz.
Besides books, the fair also had an art gallery featuring collections and photos of these nine authors, as well as a snacks centre – because books and snacks go hand in hand.
The theme of the fair was Children’s and Young Adult literature, as the fair’s organisers valued the role of books in young people’s education and wished to foster more book lovers.
Bookshops in Hong Kong
Two common chain bookstores offering books in both English and Chinese are Joint Publishing (三聯書店) and Eslite (誠品). Joint Publishing, or JP Books, was founded in 1948 and since then has expanded to include fourteen shops across Hong Kong, becoming a staple for adults and children alike. Eslite, originating from Taipei, is also widely recognized with six bookshops and various other lifestyle stores scattered throughout the city, each with various selections of literature, stationary and foods.
For independent shops with bilingual publications, Mount Zero¹ and Books & Co.² are oases of calm in the fast-paced city. Located in the shade of a soaring tree, Mount Zero’s first floor is covered in books and home to thoughtful literary discussion. Up a short flight of stairs is a quiet second floor where readers can sit immersed in their newest read or explore the crafts that are on sale. If you’re searching for a trove of pre-loved books, look no further than Books & Co. Combining shelves upon shelves of pre-loved books with a cafe serving both meals and drinks, this shop has everything you need. Behind its brick exterior, warm lights and warmer smiles make Books & Co. a shining local gem.
¹Mount Zero, Shop C, 6 Tai Ping Shan Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
²Books & Co., 10 Park Road, Mid Levels, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Book Recommendations from authors from Hong Kong
My City: A Hong Kong Story by Xi Xi. Translated by Eva Hung
Prolific author Xi Xi, who passed away in December 2022, has been credited with "putting Hong Kong on the map in the literary world." Her career as an author, which saw the publication of thirty books, helped capture the spirit of a generation, quickly becoming one of the most beloved names in Sinophone literature. Xi Xi’s 1993 novel My City, translated by Eva Hung, depicts Hong Kong in the seventies. During this time, Hong Kong experienced a period of rapid economic growth, whilst also growing in self-confidence and forging its national identity. In a disarming style uniquely her own, Xi Xi weaves a deceptively child-like narrative against a background of the political and social problems of this complex society. You can learn more about Xi Xi and her incredible legacy here.
Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-cheung. Translated by Dung Kai-cheung, Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall
Written and translated by Dung Kai-cheung, this 2012 fantasy novel takes place in the long-lost city of Victoria – a fictional world similar to Hong Kong. Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Dung Kai-cheung reimagines the lost city of Victoria through maps, artefacts and other historical documents in a novel which is part-fiction, part-history and part-theory. Author Lee Ou-fan Lee describes Atlas as a novel that unearths a wealth of materials, names and legends which constitute the entirety of Hong Kong's cultural memory. Both experimental and historical, Dung Kai-cheung crafts a page-turning adventure about trying to recapture the things we lose.
Habit of a Foreign Sky by Xu Xi
This novel was a finalist for the Inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize and is about family dynamics, love and loss. We follow Gail Szeto who is at the forefront of an international cast of characters in Hong Kong, Shanghai and New York. With fantastic character building, we follow Gail as life rapidly goes into free fall and her complicated past comes to life. Both vulnerable and honest, Habit of a Foreign Sky is a quirky, fast-paced read which will have you on the edge of your seat.
The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei. Translated by Jeremy Tiang
The Borrowed is a novel that clearly creates a portrait of Hong Kong, from its gritty culture to the glitz and glamour, to class differences and the fight for justice. The writing is dry and astute, and we are treated to six interlocking stories of Superintendent Kwan and Sonny Lok’s cases going backwards through time which reveal the heart of Hong Kong culture. Ho-Kei wanted to have a protagonist in the police to “use the main character to explore the historic ups and downs of the police force.” This is a gripping thriller that will keep you guessing until the last page.