Booking It Around The World

Last week I posted about books for travelers, and I realised I never wrote about my forays into bookstores while traveling. Most Semester at Sea students decide to collect ONE THING in each country. One girl decided to buy a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in every country, preferably in a local language. Another chose Alice in Wonderland. I thought this was cool, except that a) I don’t have an all-time favourite book and b) I prefer books that I can read. So I decided to buy a book in every country, either about that country or by an author in that country. In English.


1. Hawai’i, USA:

This was before I decided to formally collect books, so I did not go looking for books (pity, since I walked right past a second-hand bookshop and didn’t go in!). But I found this gentleman (top right) at the Hilo Farmer’s Market. He was selling Macadamia nuts, cloves and BOOKS! I bought Hives in Paradise by his mother, Midge Hill Mebane. It’s a signed copy. Mrs Mebane is fairly old, I was told, and her book, about the idiosyncrasies of Hawai’i, is very funny (I am told). I have not been able to find anything about the book or author online, so I will write about it once read.

2. Japan (Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe)

This was tough! In Tokyo, we went to a MASSIVE bookstore, I’m talking several storeys. But the books were all in Japanese. And I wanted a book I could READ. Finally, on my last day in Kyoto, I found the Manga Museum (left centre). I used to read Tin Tin as well as Asterix and Obelix, but Manga is new to me. I bought Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata – the English version! The Yen is strong and this was probably the most expensive book I bought.

3. China (Shanghai, Hong Kong)

A similar problem here: so many Mandarin and Cantonese books! I had almost given up when we walked past the YMCA in Hong Kong. Lots and lots of books! Having read several Chinese books, I wanted to read one a little different… I eventually chose China Underground by Zachary Mexico. (Apparently, Hong Kong’s YMCA is VERY popular and usually fully booked months in advance. I just like their bookstore.)

4. Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho)

So many bookstores in Vietnam! I was so excited by it. They sold lots of propaganda paraphernalia as well, very tongue-in-cheek. I got Last Night I dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram, the war-time diary of a young Vietnamese doctor. In HCM City I also found an awesome social enterprise, Sozo Centre in the Backpackers District, with a book exchange (“Swop a book or buy one book at 50,000VND”). See the Vietnamese Jane Austen, left bottom! This was also the country where I saw real pirated books for the first time (I very nearly bought one of these by accident, until I decided to flip through the book and noticed very poorly copied pages).

5. Singapore

I spent almost an entire day looking for this awesome bookshop I read about called Books Actually. It ended up being in this really unassuming suburb where I saw absolutely no foreigners. It was great when I found it though. They have an awesome selection of books (right centre) and CATS (middle bottom). They also have regular bookish events, but none at the time we were there. I bought Fish Eats Lion: New Singaporean Speculative Fiction, an anthology of short stories.

6. Myanmar/Burma (Yangon/Rangoon) [I still can’t figure out which name is best to use]

Could you imagine that a country that has been so closed to the outside world can be so obsessed with knowledge? It is beautiful. I mentioned before that I met children there who had never attended a day of school in their lives, but could speak three or more languages. There are little second-hand bookshops (mostly non-English books) all over the streets (top right). The English bookshops are nothing like anything you are used to – dirty, leaking roofs… but BOOKS! I loved it. I bought Selected Myanmar Short Stories, translated by Ma Thanegi.

7. India (Kochi)

SO MANY BOOKSHOPS! I didn’t even have to look for these, they just popped out everywhere. And probably the cheapest books I found anywhere. I bought two (couldn’t contain myself). One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

8. Mauritius

Here we came back to franchised bookstores. I found one at Le Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis with a very wide selection (and lots of books translated to French and Mauritian Creole). I bought The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah. 


I have lots of books from my own country, obviously, but after enjoying Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City so much last year, I couldn’t resist purchasing Moxyland when I saw it on sale. And she has a new book out now!

10. Ghana

Wow, I did not expect to have trouble finding a bookshop in Ghana – and I was a little saddened that the first place I struggled was an African country. I had names of several bookshops for Accra and Takoradi, and found them closed, one after the other. Eventually I bought a little independently-published book at Elmina Castle, Elmina, The Castle & The Slave Trade by Ato Ashun. I also eventually picked up The Penguin Book International Women’s Storieswhen students were getting rid of books they could not fit in their luggage home.

11. Morocco (Casablanca, Marrakesh)

I did not struggle so much to find bookshops as I struggled to find ENGLISH bookshops. People thought I was hilarious, wanting an English bookshop. I really need to learn French. Many street vendors sold Arabic books (bottom left, that illustration was a little scary). I found Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi in the same way as #10.

12. Spain (Barcelona)

Spent a beautiful day strolling through La Rambla, and eventually found Casa del Llibre. An oasis, as all bookshops are. I bought The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruis Zafon.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I decided to look for books in every country. It was definitely an expensive venture, but it forced me to explore the cities and introduced me to a whole new world of seeking literature. It was amazing.


  1. So jealous! I need to make more of an effort to check out bookstores when I travel- you never know what you’ll find (plus great souvenirs). Thanks for sharing!

    1. When I traveled internationally for the first time in 2010 and again in 2011, I didn’t think of this either (and could kick myself for that). Glad you enjoyed!

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