Tag Archives: Kyobo Book Club

Korean Interview, second half

The second half of the interview with Hyoung Eun and the Kyobo Book Club of Korea. It’s interesting to have a different country’s ethos applied to our bookstore’s story. Also, Korea had the cutest cover of all six translations. It’s adorable!book cover Korea I really want a poster of this to put up in our bookstore (yeah, ego, but also it’s just so frigging cute).
5. After your book was published, what changes occurred in your neighborhood and your everyday life?
We have traveled a great deal, visiting other bookstores to promote the book with signings or other events, and meeting lots of like-minded people. What surprised us was how many groups and individuals have come to visit the bookstore, sometimes from quite a distance. This is good for the town as visitors need to eat somewhere and will explore the neighborhood and visit other shops. And it’s loads of fun for us, as everyone brings a different perspective on what they read, what they liked. A lot of them want to meet the cats, or see the Kiwanis letter; that was one of the most resonant points of the book for many people. The other is, oddly enough, “I’ll put the kettle on.” You touched on that earlier!
6. Did you had any ultimate aim with publishing your book? If you did, what was it? 

 Hhmm – I didn’t set out with aim of publishing anything actually. I just wrote down our various experiences, disconnected anecdotes, really. I was more or less trying to make sense of all the things that happened in our first three years, and remember some of the people that we met. Then I thought about writing a “how to” book about running a bookstore, but when I sent that to one agent she told me to forget it, bookstores were dying and no one would publish it. Later a writer friend suggested trying to find an agent for my disconnected collection of stories instead of the how-to, because she thought readers would find the stories hilarious. I still find myself astonished that Little Bookstore not only got published by a mainstream company but then proved so popular. It seems to have really captured where a lot of people are in their lives, the sort of crossroads of dreams and reality in American business culture.
7. Reading your book, we can tell you’re a great storyteller. Do you by any chance have a plan to write a sequel to <The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap>? Or any other writing materials in mind not related to your bookstore? 
 Aw shucks. Thanks! I am actually working on another book – a kind of sequel, but a broader view than just our bookstore. I touched on the tension between neighborhood stores and the big chains in The Little Bookstore and the new book, tentatively titled, Is Being Little the Next Big Thing? will explore this in more depth. It will also have some more cool cat and customer stories in it.
8. If you have any new animal family/staff members, please introduce them to us! 
We always have foster kittens around.I think since we started fostering two years ago we’ve saved about 65 cats from being euthanized in the shelter! And my husband is very proud that of all those foster cats, only one has stayed. We adopted Owen Meany last year just as the book was going to print. I named him Owen Meany because my editor, Nichole, sent me a funny note when we were just starting to work together on Little Bookstore. She’d read the part where I talked about books I didn’t like and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t publish anyone who dislikes A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY.” And this wound up being a joke between us; I’d offer to take that part out if she let me keep writing about something she wanted to discard, etc. So when we adopted a little special needs boy kitty, I said to Jack, “You know what we’re going to name him, right?” And Jack said, “Owen Meany.” And Nichole refers to him as her godcat and sends him notes at Christmas.
9. We’d like to know what used book (the book you actually bought in a used book store at one time or another) you cherish the most through your whole life.
 
Jack’s is a worn hardback copy of The House at Pooh Corner he got as a birthday present when he was very young from his sister. It came from a used book store. He hand-colored the illustrations himself right after he got it.
My special book is Rumer Godden’s A Candle for St. Jude, which I picked up in Scotland years ago, at a little shop I’m not even sure is there anymore. It was in Milnathort, a tearoom and bookstore called “Common Ground.” It was about as big as an average American living room. And I loved that shop and this book. The book is about never giving up in the artistic world or in life. It’s about dancers, but it applies to all artists. Nothing is ever over. There is no such thing as no more chances. Just keep going.
10. The book market in Korea is shrinking fast. What do you think is the most important part/element in the business that will give life to the market? Or what should we consider to resuscitate it?
We’re not really very knowledgeable about the Korean market, but here in the US the move from printed books to electronic ones is beginning to slow down and there’s evidence that some folk who have been encouraged to read through electronic media are also buying printed books (I’m assuming you mean the market for printed books). These are people who have either never read much before or had stopped reading books. There’s also evidence that folk do value their local independent bookstore – preferring the human contact there to the anonymity of buying on-line. And that comes down to the independent bookstore. I think publishers can’t play as large a part as indie sellers can, in our bricks and mortar shops. We have to become community centers, places where people WANT to go to get a cup of tea and have a chat, sit on a couch, browse, just lower their blood pressure for 15 minutes. In my book I talk about the third place, neither work nor home, and how that’s what bookstores are for people.
There was an article that featured our bookstore and book along with several other independent booksellers, in the Christian Science Monitor this past winter. We talked about 2012 being the year of the bookstore, when people began to discover that online shopping isn’t nearly as fun as actually going to the store, if the sellers are doing it right. Jack and I organize a lot of events, using community expertise. People who are good at astronomy, or drawing, or baking bread, what have you, they will host nights teaching other people to do these things, and those events are very popular. We run events every month, to draw new people to the shop and give regular customers a place to relax, or even showcase their talents. It’s going to be important for bookstores of the future to take this on in a big way.
I see a lot of the bigger bookstores adding merchandise, selling other things besides books, and that seems like their way of trying to make up for lost revenue. But for the smaller stores run by a person or a few people, I think the future lies in being customer-oriented: events they like, service they love, personal touches that bring them back because they feel valued and appreciated. They like being in bookstores because the bookstores like having them there. It should be a win-win.
Thank you for taking time to talk to the Kyobo readers.
 Thank you for asking me! Your questions were thought-provoking.

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The Korean Interview, Pt. 1

Kyobo book club (3.2 million members, according to their website) in Korea recently picked up Little Bookstore for its readers. Here is the first half of an interview Wendy did for a national paper there, assisted by Hyoung Eun, translator extraordinaire.

In Korea, many of us worry about our after-retirement life and/or get sick of city life and migrate to the countryside, too. However, almost all infrastructures ― economic and cultural ― are concentrated in big cities. And that makes those who have higher levels of education and are used to conveniences and amenities of city life, hesitate to just up and leave. We are wondering if you had the same worries and fears before you moved to where you live now.

Absolutely. Especially after we found out how hard it was to advertise in a rural area with no media market except big papers or radio conglomerates we couldn’t afford to use! We didn’t worry so much about health and education because the stereotypes of rural lives aren’t that accurate. My parents were rural people transplanted to the city, and I saw a lot of local wisdom in our lives; we had common sense about things that broke, and whether they could be fixed, instead of just buying another one. My husband Jack is a lot like this too. British people in general and Scots in particular have common sense, close to the ground living values, and don’t just rush about in cities not examining how they live. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I find fairly often in cities, people are working harder to make money to pay people to do things they could do for themselves cheaply if they lived in the country. It’s a tradeoff of lifestyles: time for money. And when you really examine the way people in rural areas live, you find some of them flying below the radar (if that’s not a silly idiom) having excellent lives on their own terms. That really appealed to us.

2.     It can be said that a used book store also sells ‘cultural content (cultural goods)’. In that sense, did the gap of cultural infrastructure level between cities and countries work as a negative element to your business?

 

No, in fact quite the opposite. There’s a proverb that says “The poor sing, the rich listen.” We found a wealth of people looking for things to read, and so long as we kept our prices cheap so they could access the books, here came a steady stream of people who were excited to see us and access our stock. In rural areas, fairly often you have a lot of people who are under-employed, smarter than their jobs require them to be, because there’s less economic infrastructure. They want intellectual stimulation. So when we said, “Anybody want to run a special event at our bookstore?” we had very good amateur historians, astronomers, illustrators, people who did these things as hobbies and loved them, offering really great events with passion and purpose. If we’d been in the city, people wouldn’t have had the time or inclination to do that. And they sure wouldn’t have done it as a service to the community. They would have been “experts” commanding fees. It’s all about drawing from and giving back to the community.

 

3.     We understand that in western culture privacy means much more than in eastern countries, and because of that people generally maintain psychological (is it ‘mental?’) distance with each other. But from your book we got the impression that you keep tightly knitted relationships ― emotionally ― with customers. One can assume that it required a lot of energy on your part to build that kind of almost family-like circle of relationships. How was it? 

 

You have accurately described this constant dichotomy! We refer in Western culture to “boundaries,” the point beyond which we don’t pry into each other’s lives. There is also something called “Stranger value,” which I think I discussed in the book, that it is easier to tell a stranger you don’t see often or won’t see again things that are bothering you that you don’t want to discuss in your own family (because they’re part of it, usually!). At the bookstore, we wanted people to feel they could be who they were, say what they wanted to say. But we also aren’t licensed psychologists. We can put the kettle on and listen, but we can’t tell people what they should do.

 

And the bookstore has what my husband calls a core: a group of ten or so people who are our personal friends, who treat the bookstore as their own, know where we keep the cleaning supplies and use them if they see something needs done! Then we have regular customers, who say hi and know our names, but who don’t feel the bookstore is their second home, more their third place – that place that isn’t home or work where they’re valued as themselves, however they want to present themselves. And then there are people who just want to shop quietly, anonymous and alone, browsing for pleasure. Whatever the customer wants. So we let the customers set the boundaries, and we have a circle of friends we rely on at the core of the bookstore and our lives.

4. Also, we can imagine that sometimes those relationships would make you exhausted both emotionally and physically. What was it like?

We think of this as more of an enriching experience than an exhausting one. All life can be draining to some extent but I think we have gained so much from this that we consider ourselves very lucky. I found things to write about from all these encounters, among other things (but keeping people’s privacy intact while doing so!)

 

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