In his book, The Counterattack of Bookstores, Koichiro Shima, who founded the Japan Booksellers Award, commented, “The displays in bookstores create a venue for the encounter between people and books. Each bookstore has its own way of orchestrating such encounters.” In an era where everything takes place online, a random encounter at a physical bookstore becomes something that people look forward to. At the end of the day, each and every encounter is unique in its own way.
“All bookstores sell books; but the kinds of books they sell and the way they use their space differentiate them. For example, Have A Nice Stay is run by several former journalists. They host a lot of talks by reporters to promote journalism. Book Punch, on the other hand, runs a lot of campaigns related to local agriculture and pays a lot of attention to civil and grassroots rights. It is a very down-to-earth bookstore. They are all classified as bookstores, but their styles and merchandise are very different. In fact, the bookstore is a ‘carrier’ where ideas are sold, and it’s the different ideas that make the bookstores stand unique from each other,” said Leticia Wong, owner of Hunter Bookstore. In recent years, more and more independent bookstores have opened in Hong Kong. Each of them represents unique values and views and strive to connect with the community through various activities and campaigns. They were born in response to the modern era. Being one of these unique bookshops itself, Hunter Bookstore is set to keep up with the times by showcasing a new theme every month.
“It gets boring when a book is always placed at the same spot. It has to be moved to a new spot based on new context. We have to let it be rediscovered. For example, The Eighth Chinese Merchant and the Disappeared Seamen by Gregory Lee can be placed in either the “new release” or the “novel” sections. But if it is placed under “diaspora and nostalgia”, people might look at the book differently and gain some new perspectives.” Leticia said that Hunter Bookstore is very “Hong Kong” — with only limited space but filled with various categories of books, merchandise, stationery, and second-hand clothes. In addition, they hold exhibitions and events from time to time. “The rent in Hong Kong is expensive. We need to make good use of space and put different things together. I’ve been thinking about how to open up more space to the public. It would be good if we could open 24 hours a day.”
Leticia’s love for books started when she was young. When she was still in the first grade of elementary school, she once borrowed some Chinese textbooks from the senior students who rode the same school bus with her; simply because she likes Chinese. When she reached the third grade, her father introduced her to the world of Jin Yong, and since then she has been a loyal reader of the writer and even managed to finish his entire collection before graduating from elementary school. “Later on, I got my hands on the Wesley series, the work of Yi Shu, Japanese literature, and different types of novels. When I was in university, I became interested in social issues and read a lot of books on social science hoping to find answers to the questions in my heart.” Leticia continued, “In recent years, books have become like a family member. I don’t read as often as I used to anymore, but the mere existence of books makes me feel at ease. There are books that I deeply like and have read many times. Just knowing that they are safely placed somewhere gives me peace of mind. Sometimes when you are in doubt, you can read and come away with some answers from it. That’s why I feel like books are my family.”
In addition to providing her with answers, Leticia also believes that reading is something “useful in a useless way”. “If you feel discouraged by what’s happening where you are, you can go and see what’s going on somewhere else. Take a short trip, and you’ll always find what you’re looking for. And if you want to escape, go read a novel. The most important thing is to maintain a positive and proactive attitude, just like a hunter.” Always stay equipped and alert to what’s going on around you. The wait to prey might be long; but when the time comes, you can always hit the target right away. That’s probably why Leticia named her place, Hunter Bookstore. “Don’t fill your mind with negative thoughts. Instead of just waiting and feeling sad, go discover and understand the world. There are so many things out there.”
Most of the shelves, sofas, and tables in Hunter Bookstore are second-hand, and Leticia seems really happy with what she found. “It’s not about protecting the environment. I am just that poor! (laughs) I only paid for one bookshelf here, and found the other stuff from the second-hand sales platform. There was once, when I was chatting with a seller and saw all those book titles on their shelf, and thought to myself, ‘That must be someone I know.’ And it turned out I do know the seller!” Reading a book is like reading a person. Simply by looking at someone’s book collection, you can guess their personality and preferences; and such a guess is rarely wrong. “I’m currently reading Re-editing Places by Japanese editor Yuki Kageyama. I’ve been thinking whether it is possible for me to do some zines on top of running a bookstore.” Leticia is a little nervous about the idea as she is still exploring. “Now that we have a bookstore, can we create more content? There are regions in Japan that publish their own magazines to tell the world about their local people and life. Their content is rich, and the photos and layouts are so beautiful. Can we do something similar for Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong? As the number of media decreases day by day, do we still need to report what’s happening here? With such a huge amount of information available on the Internet, what is the value of having a physical presence?”
Just before the Mid-Autumn Festival, Hunter Bookstore held an event with the theme of “diaspora and nostalgia” and selected two books related to food for discussion. “If you’re leaving tomorrow, what flavor do you want to take away the most? Centered on ‘flavor’, we shared stories and talked about things we miss. We even brought food to share.” Leticia said that, though things got a bit sentimental during the discussion, the event ended in a heartwarming way. “It’s your own choice whether to leave or stay. At the end of the day, it’s your own life. There are always people who choose to stay somewhere that is less fortunate or blessed. They would turn into a certain kind of person, like someone who stays in a warzone and becomes a nurse. In the end, what we should think about is who we want to be, or how we want to live our life.”