Last week, Viet Nam News asked for readers' comments on the benefits of setting aside streets in big cities for book stores and related activities. Here are some of the responses.
Do Thuy Linh, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
Great books can inspire us. After reading a critical book, we can put ourselves, society, the human race and the universe into perspective.
I'd love to go to a book-street where I can find books like Do Lai Thuy's works, not only new prints, which I can find in Dinh Le (Ha Noi's "book street" which sells the latest publications), but also older, or even used, versions, which are sold for cheaper prices.
There may be stores that sell old books here and there in Ha Noi, but I haven't seen a cluster of them anywhere. Writer Nguyen Viet Ha, in an essay collection about Ha Noi, laments the disappearance of beloved old book-stores here, and this feeling is shared by Professor Ngo Bao Chau in a recent article for Tuoi Tre newspaper. I once checked out a street in HCM City where a few stores selling old books stand next to one another.
The stores are too small though. They are busy, crowded places, not cultural spaces where people can take their time, possibly sipping something, and even striking up new friendships.
I'd love to sit down on a low wooden stool in an old bookstore and read good old books for as long as I want. I certainly wouldn't mind having coffee or tea served while reading. There should also be stores in any Vietnamese city that sell new books as well, like they do throughout the West. Once in a while, such as on an author's birthday, these shops could offer discounts and invite authors for talks.
JD Kellas, Australian, Da Nang
I did visit the several bookshops along Trang Thi. Naturally they had only a few English language books and magazines. However I was able to buy international magazines like National Geographic. The expat population uses Bookworm to access new and secondhand foreign language books.
One of the endearing features of Ha Noi and Viet Nam in general is that when one went looking for a particular type of shop, one could find several all together. Trang Thi was an example of several bookshops in close proximity.
Expats often exchange books with one another.. With respect to "a book street", our rural town in South Australia recently had a book festival where people could donate books to a charity. The books were then sold. The event offered an opportunity for writers to sell their books, for publishers and printers to sell end-of-run copies and others to run secondhand book sales.
In addition, a series of workshops were set up for budding writers to hone their skills with more experienced writers. This provided an opportunity for like minded people to talk and socialise in a relaxed atmosphere.
Do Ky Nam, Vietnamese, HCM City
When I studied in the United States, I often saw people carrying books on train or planes. It's true that not many of my Vietnamese friends consider reading a leisure activity unless they have to do it for business or study purposes. Avid readers are often highly-educated and professional.
HCM City certainly has more options than HaNoi in the way of bookshops, both for international or domestic readers. The streets around Dinh Le in Ha Noi mostly sell the latest edition of books at slightly lower prices.
You can't really stand inside these bookstores for half an hour and enjoy reading because there's not enough space. If authorities want to spread the culture of reading, it has to start in classrooms. Parents and teachers can also encourage young people to read, but they have so many options for entertainment now.
It would be great to have more book-exchange events, streets that sell second-hand books and public and cultural centres where like-minded individuals can share their passion for reading.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
One of the first things I do in a new town is go to a bookstore. Then I visit secondhand bookstores. Sai Gon has street sellers walking around carrying dozens of pirated books. Ha Noi has a few. The practice is, of course, illegal - and it does not satisfy an avid reader.
Neither HaNoi nor HCM City have access to current bestsellers or international selections either in English or other major world languages. Something needs to be done. — VNS