Looking for a Good Book? Look Here

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Looking for a Good Book? Look Here

Kyobo Book Center has held a virtual monopoly on selling foreign books in Seoul since it opened in 1980. But last July another mega-book-store emerged on the scene.

Bandy & Luni's bookstore in COEX Mall has 5,600 square meters of selling space and contains 2 million books including some 200,000 in English.

"Our strength is literature," said Lee Jin-goo of the store's sales department. "But our bread and butter is Harry Potter." The store specializes in New York Times best-sellers, and it posts each week's list of fiction and nonfiction titles.

Bandy & Luni's does not see Kyobo strictly as a competitor. "Think of us as cousins," Mr. Lee said. Kyobo Book Center on the north side of the Han River has nearly 9,000 square meters of bustling underground space. That makes it the largest bookstore in Seoul, according to Hong Suk-young, a Kyobo staff member.

The English-language department has about 340,000 books. The foreign book section at Bandy & Luni's, also underground but on the south side of the river, targets native English speakers, Mr. Lee said.

The selection includes audio books and an abundance of nonacademic, nonfiction books. Categories range from best-sellers to current affairs, cookbooks, business, science fiction and fantasy, self-help, young adult and children's books.

New books are brought in by air mail for the New Arrivals section. "We have customers who are shocked that we carry some new titles," Mr. Lee said. "If we don't have something you want, we'll order it," Mr. Lee said.

Styled after the mega-bookstores now cornering the market overseas, Bandy & Luni's has a cafe and and an airy setting. It encourages cus-tomer browsing. In general, it has a quieter atmosphere than the hurly-burly of Kyobo.

The name Bandy & Luni's comes from a Korean saying about diligent study: "I studied under the light of fireflies and the moon." The Korean word for firefly is bandybool. Luni's is a play on lunar.

Elsewhere in Seoul, Abby's Book Nook opened last July in Itaewon. The 80-square meter store is jammed with more than 10,000 used books, and its cozy sofas are an inviting place to check them out. When the owners, Peter and Eun-hee Kim McNevin, moved from Nevada to Seoul last June, they brought 20,000 books with them. "Peter is a book collector," Mrs. McNevin said.

The most expensive book at Abby's is a first edition of "The Hunt for Red October" by Tom Clancy. It sells for 650,000 won ($580). "It's not the oldest book we have, but the author is famous," Mrs. McNevin said. One customer bought 30 first editions before returning to America. "These books are hard to find even in the United States," she said.

Abby's, which is named for the McNevins' infant daughter, Abigail, maintains its stock by buying and trading books in Seoul. Its customers include foreigners looking for a book to read, Koreans studying English and English teachers. "I like books," Mrs. McNevin said. She paused and added, "But not English ones."

by Joe Yong-hee

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