One of my favorite cities in the world has been coined by the Unesco the World Book Capital of 2013. While the Thai capital is known for its exotic cuisine, resplendent temples, and sex industry, it has rarely been seen as a stop for literary visitors. I might be one of the few who nose my way into the many bookstores that flank the glitzy shopping malls and back streets—for cheaper UK paperback editions of recent releases. But in fact Thailand’s printing industry is thriving. Unlike some other parts of the world, especially in Asia, Thailand’s media industry is thriving, with publishing doing especially well. Pass any news-stand or bookshop in the country and you will spot heaving shelves packed with hundreds of colorful local and international publications, sitting amid Manga comic books, novels and reference titles. Then there are all the usual travel and gossip magazines, as well as some wonderfully weird publications. They remind me of the bookstalls alone the Seine in Paris, but the Bangkok ones operate out of the busy sidewalks.
Unesco asserts that the city was awarded the honor for being “community-focused” and for encouraging “the development of reading for all.” And Bangkok has more than its fair share of places to partake in this literary tradition. I usually book a hotel (5-star, since the dollar goes very far in Thailand), near the heart of the city where these fabulous bookstores are housed in the mega malls. Bangkok serves English and Thai readers especially well with smart, well laid-out bookstores like Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya and Asia Books in the Siam Paragon mall, the largest English language bookstore chain in Thailand. With their comfy chairs, air-conditioning, hardwood floors and useful computer terminals, these large stores make browsing a pleasure and can easily compete with
It’s not easy to see how printed media blend with Thai daily life. Many coffee shops are lined with bookshelves and magazine racks. The Neilson Hays Library is a charming historic building in Bangkok devoted to books, art exhibitions, creative workshops and fun family events. In 2009 the Thai government commissioned the TCDC (Thailand Creative & Design Centre), a library that inspires Thais with global design and showcases Thai creativity through superb exhibitions and talks.
I recall the survey that reported one in four Americans didn’t read a single book in a year. Bangkokians read average of 5 books a year but with new libraries, book corners & comic book museum, 10-15 books a year is goal.