It's slim pickings in foreign-language bookstores in Shanghai. Here are a few of the city's standouts, from small indie shops and secondhand hole-in-the-walls to the behemoths on Fuzhou Lu.
Fuzhou Lu is widely known as Shanghai's bookshop center, and the no-nonsense Foreign Language Book Store is the city's closest thing you can find to a Border's/Barnes & Noble/whatever mega bookstore you know from your home country. The entire building is dedicated to English-language books, so they've got everything from business books, classics, romance novels and cookbooks to current bestsellers, test prep books, teen fiction, magazines and textbooks.
The first floor is dedicated to fiction and popular contemporary titles, the second floor holds test prep books, the third floor has art and design books and the fourth floor features children’s books and magazines. The shop carries all the regular genres, though the placement of books can be somewhat confusing. The staff can all speak English, though, and can point you in the right direction.
Sample costs: Classic paperbacks range from 100-140rmb; larger coffee table books can go up to 400-700rmb.
Closest metro stop: East Nanjing Road, 10 minute walk
This has become the go-to bookshop for foreigners in town, largely thanks to its location on a prominent shopping street smack dab in the middle of Xuhui District. They have a large selection of books, including those produced by local foreign talent (Shanghai Blink, a photo book of Shanghai's everyday city scenes, is among them). That's one of Garden's shining features, really being a platform for local writers and artists to sell their work.
In addition to that, Garden carries the usual magazines, fiction (even teen fiction), classics, children’s novels, design books, travel guides, postcards, Moleskine notebooks, all that good shit. There are also small collections of books in other languages too, like Spanish, French and Italian. The in-house café also has a nice place to sit and relax, with coffee, tea, gelato and desserts on offer.
Sample costs: Paperbacks in the 100-150rmb range; hardcovers 150-200rmb.
Closest metro stop: Shaanxi Nan Lu, 5 minute walk
This one is in a bit of an obscure spot, but it's still just a stone's throw away from Fuzhou Lu. Just two blocks away from the mega bookstores sits this small, shabby shop that buys and resells old books at excellent prices. It looks pretty rundown from the outside, and the people running the place can be pretty curt, but don't let all that deter you.
You can get dictionaries, interior design books and novels, plus back issues of Vogue, The Economist, TIME, and National Geographic magazines stacked to a human-size height. Note that the books on offer, much like the magazines, scream of a bygone era, like hardcovers from the Sweet Valley High Twins tween series from the 1980s. Some of them even have library stamps inside the jacket. There are some good architectural, interior and graphic design books on offer, though these are also showing dated trends. They absolutely will not haggle here, so don't even try. But if you can speak Chinese, the laoban has a lot of knowledge to drop.
Sample costs: dictionaries (20-80rmb), paperbacks (15-30rmb), back-issue magazines (8-25rmb), hardcovers (100-120rmb) and coffee table tomes (50-300rmb).
Closest metro stop: East Nanjing Road, 5 mins. walk — take Exit 4.
The seven story "Book City" is supposedly Shanghai's largest bookstore. Most of the publications are in Chinese, but there is a sizable collection of English-language books on the top floor. The fourth floor is dedicated to study aids like English-learning books and tutorials. Book City's selection focuses on popular paperbacks, so expect the classics, plus The New York Times' bestseller titles here.
One of the highlights in Book City's English language selection is its surprisingly well-picked selection of children's entertainment and educational books. There are beautifully illustrated pop-up books and even "Shakespeare for Kids" sets.
Sample costs: Paperbacks in the 100-130rmb range; children's hardcover books in 150-200rmb range.
Closest metro stop: People's Square, 10 minute walk
Dukou is a small bookshop that's popular among the local MUJI, Kinfolk and DIY-loving crowd. Publications here are almost all in Chinese, with the exception of a few shelves dedicated to used foreign-language books and old magazines like Monocle and National Geographic. It's not suitable for those seeking specific titles, but it is good for browsing used books when you're in the Julu Lu area and want to laze away in an indie bookstore.
There are some great alternative fashion and design magazines laid out on the table at the entrance, including new-ish indie travel mag LOST, which was written by Shanghai-based creative industry types. Dukou keeps one sample copy out so that you can flip through them. Another bonus: patio seating out front.
Sample costs: Used English-language paperbacks and back-issue magazines (30-45rmb).
Closest metro stop: Changshu Road, 15 minute walk
Know of other good bookstores? Leave 'em in the comments.
Photos by Brandon McGhee