Since 2001 the bookstore has been interconnecting Hanoi’s community of readers by creating a space for dialogue, participation and literary exploration
A treasure chest for readers, The Bookworm Hanoi is the city’s sole English bookshop. The store carries over twenty-thousand English titles, spanning fiction, non-fiction and children books with a selection of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian volumes, including items on history, poetry and architecture, photography books, cookbooks and biographies. It was 1999 when the bookstore’s owner, Hoang Van Truong, came to Hanoi. Truong embarked on the project in 2006, the year he became the manager of the store. He chose to structure it with a physical and an online presence, where Vietnamese readers and writers from around the world could meet and interact. Born in Taiwan, Truong considers the city where he has been living for twenty years to be part of his identity: Hanoi is where he met his wife, Kim Anh, and started a family. The bookstore was the brainchild of Pam Scott, an Australian author and PhD who moved to Vietnam for a cultural exchange program, starting to work as a consultant in the telecommunications industry in 1994 becoming a visiting professor at the National Economics University Business School in Hanoi. Her ambition was to open a book corner where she could speak with friends and fellow travelers. Bookworm Hanoi began as an English language book exchange project dedicated to expats. In 2001, When Truong’s Australian foster parents decided to take over the direction of the bookstore, he saw it as an opportunity to merge work with his passion for reading books.
His interest in reading and collecting books is rooted in his childhood. In his youth, his home was occupied with them. At that time owning books was considered ‘a luxury’, he recalls. «My money was spent on books. If someone owed me a favor, I would ask for books in exchange». For Truong, who works for a trading company, day-to-day activities comprise book buying and pricing, networking, establishing and maintaining relations with customers. He engages in jogging and tennis in the afternoon, when he carves a couple of hours out for himself. His zest for the job comes from having an assortment of titles to choose from, trading books, and being able to meet his customers. Specializing in second-hand editions sourced from locals, The Bookworm Hanoi relies on the community of foreigners that cherish the bookstores activity to supply its collection of pre-owned titles, which grows with each passing day. Supporting the bookstores supply remains a challenge for its owner. «The Bookworm Hanoi depends on customers to sustain its used book selection. Collecting and receiving books from aficionados and travelers across the city of Hanoi is what makes the bookstore survive. Forty percent of the collection is imported from the US and the UK, and the rest is bought from or exchanged with customers», saysTruong. The Bookworm Hanoi first allowed Truong to share his enthusiasm for literature, but the experiences he collected by managing the store gave him the tools to expand his interests. Meeting travelers who crossed Vietnam on foot ignited a passion for the outdoors in him. Learning of the possibility to explore the countryside through his customers, Truong has travelled across the Indochinese peninsula, with hikes to Ho Chi Minh and bike rides through Cambodia and Thailand.
He describes The Bookworm Hanoi’s reputation as that of being a ‘hub for culture’ within the city. «Vietnamese citizens who visit Hanoi for its culture or literary scene stop at the bookstore». In November 2020, The Bookworm Hanoi relocated to 44 Pham Hong Thai Street, following a ten-year stay at their prior location, 44 Chau Long Street, situated a hundred-meters away from the current address. Ba Đình – the district where the bookstore belongs – is an area populated by government offices and embassies. The number of French-style villas and buildings scattered within the district, which were constructed when the city was the capital of French Indochina, led it to be known as the French quarter. The neighborhood is home to Vietnam’s Presidential Palace, the wreckage of a B-52 bomber resting in Huu Tiep Lake, now a memorial, and the Temple of Literature: a Confucian sanctuary built under the Lý dynasty, dating back to 1070. Part of a French style building, The Bookworm Hanoi is spread over two floors, and its interior design contributes to create an atmosphere of simplicity and relaxation. The ground floor hosts children’s and young adult books, a lounge area and First Page Café, a spot to grab a drink or a snack while being immersed in literature, before or after browsing the shelves. The coffee served here is grown and is transported from an estate in the Lâm Đồng Province. The plantation is located in the mountains of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where the beans are farmed, harvested and produced in batches by a community of women growers. Their business was discovered by Truong’s wife, as she used to work for a tourism company. Due to the incipience of Covid-19 she has lost her job, and has been supporting the cafe’s services by baking homemade cakes and sweets. Coffee is central to Vietnam’s culture and lifestyle. The country is the second producer of coffee beans in the world, after Brazil, and the first producer of the Robusta variety. Believed to be introduced by the French in the 1850s, coffee production grew at the turn of the century, after France defeated China in the Sino-French war, colonizing Vietnam in 1887. Following WWI, the price of coffee dropped, and it shifted from being a French beverage to a drink that Vietnamese people embraced, and whose production they began to retain.
In terms of book selection, The Bookworm Hanoi prioritizes quality titles, together with Booker, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. The authors Truong re-reads are, American writers Philip Roth and John Steinbeck, and Vietnamese writer Bảo Ninh, whose The Sorrow of War echoes the stories his father used to tell him. The book narrates the experience of a Vietnamese soldier who went to war around the time Truong’s father did. In his youth, Truong had been an admirer of Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Fourteenth-century Chinese author Luo Guanzhong, whose work he is fond of. When it comes to customer service and relationships, from the date of its launch, The Bookworm Hanoi’s philosophy has been that of creating an atmosphere of friendliness. Its mission is to diversify and differentiate its offer. The space welcomes locals, university students, members of exchange programs and tourists. It encourages encounters between cultures, enlivening the merging of East and West through literature, discussion and participation. Apart from opening its doors to the enjoyment of reading and learning, The Bookworm Hanoi has been organizing event series in the form of readings, artist presentations, book launches and author talks. The store plans to collaborate with the Indian Embassy in Hanoi. On February 12th, for the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year, it will host calligraphy workshops, Vietnamese live music performances and food tastings. The Bookworm Hanoi’s involvement with charitable organizations began with the bookstore’s launch, as in the case of Xa Me orphanage, founded by Mr. Vu Tien. The store cooperates with Blue Dragon – an NGO that assists street children through services of rescue and crisis care for people in danger, providing shelter, legal advocacy and long-term support with education and training – by selling their merchandise and donating proceeds to the organization. Half of the profits from the sales of books donated to The Bookworm Hanoi are forwarded to Project Renew, a Vietnamese staffed NGO active in Quang Tri Province in central Vietnam. It educates people about awareness and safety by clearing wartime ordinances, in an effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by cluster bombs and munitions remaining after 1975, when the war ended.
In the twenty years that have gone by, Vietnam has opened its borders to cultures and societies coming from abroad. Part of this transformation has brought the country’s population to read books and cultivate an interest in literature. «There is a movement in Hanoi built by those children who return from their studies abroad. Part of our customer base is made of Vietnamese students who returned from an experience overseas. People want to visit and learn about Western culture, as the city has westernized». 2021 will be the twentieth year since The Bookworm Hanoi’s opening date. Its future plans include opening a branch with a café in Ecopark, a township on the outskirts of Hanoi, in Hung Yen Province, which is under development and should be completed by 2040. The area is part of Hanoi’s Capital Construction Master Plan for 2030 and vision for 2050, and will house approximately twenty-thousand residential units that will include villas, semi-detached houses, and apartment units, the British University of Vietnam, cinemas, sport courts, gyms, swimming pools and playgrounds.
The Bookworm Hanoi
44 Phạm Hồng Thái
Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình
Hà Nội, Vietnam