Village infected with love of reading

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Village infected with love of reading

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Walking into Zelkova Used Book Store in Hongseong country, South Chungcheong province, visitors are confronted by 3,000 books, from children’s stories to great works of literature.
The store’s wooden tables are surrounded by children engrossed in books, and the shelves are pored over by adult customers.
Located in the corner of a farming village with only 190 households, the bookstore opened in early June. The store is run by Jang Eun-seong, 37, an owner of a publishing company specializing in ecology. A Hongseong county native, Mr. Jang worked for a book publisher for eight years after he graduated from high school in Seoul, and founded his own company in 2002.
In September 2004, Mr. Jang thought it would be a good idea for him to work in a village with a well-preserved natural environment, since he was publishing books about ecology; he moved here, a place near his hometown, leaving his wife and daughter in Seoul.
Mr. Jang does his publishing planning here and arranges the printing and binding in Seoul. After he came to this village, he published a biographical anthology by a Japanese farmer, Kodani Junichi, “Farmer’s Road.” He has no other employees, but occasionally hires two or three persons on a temporary basis.
Mr. Jang said he felt sorry for village residents because they had little access to reading. After thinking it over for some time, he decided to open a used book store and told the residents about the idea.
“My goal was more to start a book-reading culture in this village than to make money,” Mr. Jang said.
The residents were very supportive. They asked him to renovate a deserted house in the village and open a bookstore. They also made bookshelves and a table, and donated a television and piano. Seventeen residents contributed a total of 1.7 million won ($1,789) toward purchasing books.
Mr. Jang stocked the shelves with 1,000 books he already owned and another 2,000 books he bought from used book stores in Seoul. He placed a wooden table under a zelkova tree in front of the bookstore. Mr. Jang also went back to Seoul from time to time to buy more used books.
The bookstore is now something of an oasis in the village. About 50 to 100 people come every week. Some parents visit with their children or drive the 20 minutes from the nearest town. There are many who just visit here to read. The most popular books are collections of essays or children’s books.
“Though it’s a secondhand book store, I come here often because there are many books that are very helpful for my children,” said Bae Ji-hyeon, 35, who brought her daughter, 5.
When Mr. Jang goes back to Seoul, he leaves a ledger and a small basket. Buyers can write the name of a book and the date it was borrowed on the ledger and leave money in the basket. Even when he is away, the books are not stolen.


by Kim Bang-hyeon

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