One of the things about living in faraway lands that can be frustrating for a nerd like me is the frequently limited access to English books. In Turkey, they were quite pricey but I bought them anyway. A girl has needs, you see.
I had to leave 75% of them behind when I left (there may still be a MaryAnne Memorial Library in the teachers’ room at EF Levent), amounting to about 1000 lira’s worth of abandoned books. I could have travelled in Bulgaria for a month on what I had spent on books. However, books are a necessary part of my sanity.
Enter Shanghai and the marvellous Chinese disregard for copyright law.
You can buy real books here in many places and pay real book prices. You get a pretty good selection too, if you want to follow that path.
There are, however, alternatives.
There are the guys with the wooden carts that park themselves on random street corners in neighbourhoods known for their laowai populations. They veer heavily toward zeitgeisty business tomes, like Microtrends or Outliers or The Black Swan, as well as rather unexpected Haruki Murakamis or Candace Bushnells or Salman Rushdies. I’ve bought a few shrink wrapped novels from them. The same titles can also be found in fake dvd shops, again and again and again. These ones generally sell for around 15rmb (just over $2).
Yesterday I discovered a new source on Shanxi Nan Lu, near Nanchang Lu: a bookshop that mainly stocks Chinese books, with a shrink-wrapped laowai section at the front. I found a few books there that I hadn’t seen in other places. Since we’re going away for a month to Myanmar tonight, I thought I’d stock up on reading materials. I asked the woman how much my books cost. She took each one separately and weighed them. The thicker book was 10rmb, the lighter one only 8rmb.
I think this was the first time I’d ever bought books by weight.