Reading spaces offer views, comfort and even therapy sessions

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Reading spaces offer views, comfort and even therapy sessions

The view of the Han river from bookstore Check_grow in Mapo District, northwestern Seoul [CHECK_GROW]

The view of the Han river from bookstore Check_grow in Mapo District, northwestern Seoul [CHECK_GROW]

The continued pandemic has pushed many to find ways to have fun and rewarding weekends alone, and some specialty libraries and bookstores have become the places to do so. 
 
Unlike standard libraries offering books and often times uncomfortable chairs, these spaces have comfy couches and even space to lie down while enjoying a variety of cultural programs that you can access both online and offline.  
 
Library Sojeonseolim's lounge area offers different editions of art books. [SOJEONSEOLIM]

Library Sojeonseolim's lounge area offers different editions of art books. [SOJEONSEOLIM]

Sojeonseolim in southern Seoul’s Gangnam District is one of the most luxurious literary spots in Seoul. Different from a public library, it charges a fee of 30,000 won ($26) to enter and read books and magazines for up to five hours, or 50,000 won for all-day access. Also different from a public library that has books of various themes and subjects, Sojeonseolim only offers options that focus on art and literature. The underground which can be accessed from a wine bar and cafe on the first floor feels like the very fancy living room of someone you'd want to make friends with for more frequent visits.  
 
Even with the fee and the limited selection of reading material, the library says it not only has a steady number of visitors since it opened in February last year, but also a steady amount of people who sign up for the one-year membership that guarantees unlimited access for 2.4 million won. Members also get discounts to participate in book talks and other programs run by the library. 
 
A duck-shaped chair at ... [LEE SUN-MIN]

A duck-shaped chair at ... [LEE SUN-MIN]

Magazines in different languages are available, and new art books that may be a bit too pricey to possess at home are all available to flip through. Regulars can also request the library to purchase certain books and magazines that are worthwhile and the library continues to take such suggestions to make its collection more inclusive. It is possible to read on a swing out on the terrace or sit on a duck-shaped chair to make your reading experience more fun. There is a hallway filled with partitions so that you can have some alone time too. Some movies based on classic literature pieces are also available.  
 
“Of course some are very dedicated to reading the material when they are here, but some others use it as a cozy cultural place where they come to rest, drink, zone out, or even take a nap and still have a sense of accomplishment,” said Jung Ji-eun, manager of Sojeonseolim. “You don’t have to read just because you are in the library. This can be the place you use for whatever purpose you have for that day.”
 
A bookstore doesn’t always have to be in a space surrounded with book-filled shelves where tinted windows keep natural light from getting through. Instead of recreating this classic look, Check_grow took a different path. Given that many novice readers are often intimidated by thick books and shelves tightly packed with serious-looking books, the bookstore decided to offer a space where anyone can grow confident in building the habit of reading books.  
Bookstore Check_grow in Mapo District, northwestern Seoul [LEE SUN-MIN]

Bookstore Check_grow in Mapo District, northwestern Seoul [LEE SUN-MIN]

 
The first thing you see before entering the bookstore is a large window that shows a view of the Han River and buildings in Yeouido in western Seoul. The unhindered view offered in the bookstore that uses multiple floors in a building in Gongdeok, northwestern Seoul’s Mapo District, makes customers feel like they are actually out picnicking. The recently-opened sixth floor, extended from the existing bookstore on the eighth and ninth floor, is even named the “Garden” with more plants and flower pots of different sizes put close to books and reading tables. 
 
Serious readers can enjoy what’s marketed as the bookstore, while others who want more white nose in the background with the view can sit in the cafe on the ninth floor. On the ninth floor is a small outdoor space with rocking chairs, plants and tables where young children can run around.  
 
“This place is where your eyes are entertained,” said Kwon Jae-hee, manager of Check_grow, adding that the view, the books, and the greens are all there to cater to visitors coming with different purposes.  
 
“Some people find reading books difficult. But no one is good at it from the beginning, so we are here trying to give people a chance to find their own way to get familiar with books.”
 
Check_grow offers many different programs to help those want to not only read more but also read better. One of the most popular programs is its Saturday morning talk. The weekly program runs on Saturdays at 7 a.m. For those who want to be part of the program from home, the bookstore uses its Instagram account to share the entire session live.  
 
One of the reading rooms at My Corner [LEE SUN-MIN]

One of the reading rooms at My Corner [LEE SUN-MIN]

My Corner is a hidden library in Seoul. It is not necessarily a speakeasy style space, but because the library doesn’t promote itself much through online or offline channels, it is not easy to find. Even the building where the bookstore is located has a small standing sign that's easy to miss.   
 
The library caters to visitors who want some time by themselves and is decorated like a cozy apartment. Each room has many armchairs, some of which are hidden from view, and some sofas with a small table are available for those who want to use gadgets that needs outlets to charge. You can pick up books from the shelves in the center and read, or bring your own, or the ones bought from the affiliated bookstore Ina Books on the floor above. Drinks are free.  
 
“This is the place where you just rest yourself from the hustle and bustle city life and feel comfortable,” said manager Lee Jun-young at My Corner. “People come here to improve the quality of their lives by giving themselves some alone time away from anything that gives them a headache or causes stress. Some even come for a therapy session.”
 
Alongside with many different cultural programs offered on a regular basis, Library Alone also provides one-on-one sessions with a therapist for those looking for some professional advice. For those who want to talk about their career paths, it is possible to book a session with a career coach. Library Alone also holds regular programs with many different themes and invites outside professionals to join. Readings of both the Korean and English versions of the book “Pachinko” by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee are available as well as study sessions on the teachings of ancient scholars. You need to sign up in advance to enjoy such programs, which come with a charge.  
 
It is currently 10,000 won to use the space for one hour, discounted from the original 14,000 won. All-day access is 40,000 won. You can also sign up for a 10-session coupon for 110,000 won, which allows you to stay for up to two hours each visit. 
Book Says mainly offers books about business, management and economics, as well as a dining area right next to its book shelves. [LEE SUN-MIN]

Book Says mainly offers books about business, management and economics, as well as a dining area right next to its book shelves. [LEE SUN-MIN]

 
Steps away from My Corner is Book Says. Given that Teheran-ro is filled with offices of large companies and many start-ups, the library offers books focused on business, management and economic theories. It also offers books that are good to read when you want to quit or when you want to be better at your job. It has a large dining and cafe area inside, to cater to people looking to read on their lunch breaks. The upstairs has desks and reading lamps for those who want more serious reading or studying time.  
Many different colorful books as well as some of the best-selling books from major bookstores are on display at Cafe Comma's Hapjeong branch run in association with publishing house Munhakdongne. [LEE SUN-MIN]

Many different colorful books as well as some of the best-selling books from major bookstores are on display at Cafe Comma's Hapjeong branch run in association with publishing house Munhakdongne. [LEE SUN-MIN]

 
Munhakdongne, one of the largest publishing companies specializing in literature, also continues to offer a space where people can read and rest. Its newest Cafe Comma, a cafe franchise it runs, opened in Hapjeong, northwestern Seoul’s Mapo District. The areas where books are on display are quieter than the open space with view of the neighborhood. Here, books with more colorful covers are displayed near the entrance to entice readers to come inside.
 
BY LEE SUN-MIN   [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]  
 
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