How many all Korean bookstores are there in America? Well, if there are any, they would be in Los Angeles because that is the only place I have seen Koreans in America besides at universities. Are there any bookstores in America completely dedicated to a foreign language at all? Perhaps, there could be a Spanish one in Texas, but I doubt it. Perhaps there is a Chinese bookstore in San Francisco in “China Town”, but I haven’t been there, so I don’t really know. The point is, it is very unusual to have a bookstore dedicated to selling foreign language books in any country, but if there is a language a country would embrace, it is English. Koreans think of English as their second language as many countries around the world, and teaching English has become big business in Korea. There are private schools everywhere set up to teach English and foreigners from English speaking countries everywhere brought in to teach English. Most bookstores in Korea have an English section, but there is one that only sells English books called “What the Book?” in Itaewon in Seoul.
I first discovered “What the Book?” several years ago when it was just one small shabby room of second hand English books on a back street in Itaewon. I was thrilled to find it! I could not only get English books, but get them cheap because the books were second hand. However, a time came when “What the Book?” was gone, and I was sorry, but I was mistaken.
They had moved to a nicer, more centrally located, bigger place and completely changed. They moved to main street Itaewon over close to the Indian curry restaurant, Agrya.. You could find them on the second floor, and you had to climb stairs to get there, but it was worth it. They had a larger room. They were no longer on a side street. They were also selling new books along with their second hand books, and the place looked much better managed. I was convinced the change was that they were making money and could hire employees to help take care of the place. I recommended them to all the foreigners looking for books. They had an excellent language section and lots of novels in English. However, we went there the other day, and they were gone again.
Not a lot gets past my daughter. She found them on Google on her phone and we found the new location. We turned around and walked back down to the subway station, then turned right at the Itaewon subway station. The road sloped upward, and the weather was hot, but we were determined to find them. We had to stop and get something cold to drink and rest, but we finally found them.
They were on the second floor again, but thank goodness there was an elevator! I am not sure why they moved. Perhaps they wanted that elevator for carrying books up to the store. As we went in, I noticed there were two cash registers now and not just one. Perhaps they were just growing again. About half the books were still second hand books, and half the store was full of new books.
I found a place to sit and cool off from our long walk uphill and looked around. I saw books that grabbed my heart, and probably English professors in Korea are looking for them. There was a whole shelf of classic novels in English like the Iliad, the Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice,, Gone with the Wind, etc. I looked across the way and saw children’s easy reading books, but only recognized Paddington Bear. I have seen Alvin and the Chipmunks on TV, but I hadn’t seen any of their books. I got up and began exploring. Behind there, I saw books for babies, learning books for older children, novels for young readers, and several other new books, but only recognized a few like Rudyard Kipling’s stories and Pokemon.
I decided to go to the other part of the store. I saw magazines in English like Time and Good Housekeeping. I saw a set of Little House on the Prairie books. I saw books about President Trump, and not for the first time today in Itaewon, I saw the Rock’s picture. His movies are extremely popular in Korea. There were whole sets of C. S. Lewis books, both the fantasy books and the Christian apology books. I saw Korean language and culture books written for foreigners. I saw comic books about recent popular movies.
I poked my head into the second hand book section which is still quite large. The first thing I saw as Manga in English. There were many novels I didn’t recognize. There was a religious section with Bibles in English as well as religious books from other religions. I finally spotted the names of a couple of children’s authors I knew, but they were not the regular books, but coloring books. I also found a Science Fiction section. I have watched all the Star Trek shows, but had no idea there were Star Trek books. My daughter was happy because she came here finding the books she was looking for, except one. She likes to study Philosophy and religion just as I always have. I feel if we study these things, it helps us understand people better and how they think, and as I read these books, they are extremely fascinating. She was looking for a Catholic Bible because she has read the regular Bible and wanted to see why the Catholic Bible was different, but she didn’t find a Catholic Bible. However, she found three books about ancient Philosophy that made her happy.
If you are an avid reader and English speaker living in Korea, this bookstore is a gold mine. We really enjoy this book store. If you are an English professor or English teacher in Korea, there are books here to use in teaching your students. The store just keeps on growing and moving to better spots. It isn’t going away, and as it grows, it could change places again. Find it while you can, and if you think you need it, but don’t make it to the new location before it grows and needs a bigger place again, Google it like my daughter did to find it because it is a very worthwhile place to know.