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The Bookworm: an ideal place for foreign bookworms

Photo courtesy of The Bookworm

The Bookworm, a bookstore opened 11 years ago on Yujie East Road, Chengdu, has now become a landmark of its neighborhood.

At the end of 2017, to celebrate Christmas, the bookstore had a Christmas tree decorated and erected before its front door. Besides book lovers, the store is frequented by cats who enjoy comfortable naps in the store’s big porch.

The store owner is Irish man Peter Goff.

Goff came to China in 2001 as a foreign correspondent of Daily Telegraph. The moment he stepped on this land, Goff, who had travelled to many countries and regions in the world, decided to stay. The food, the culture, the cities and the people in China were all so attractively new to him.

“There are great stories here,”he said.

His first stop was Beijing. Goff has had a habit of reading for many years. Seeing there was no bookstore in the city that is suitable for foreigners, he opened The Bookworm after a few deliberations with his friends.

“There was simply no bookstore where I could read English books. I needed one and this was how The Bookworm came into being,” said Goff.

In 2006, he opened another The Bookworm in Chengdu.

In the past 11 years, the Chengdu store has blossomed little by little into a multi-functional place where coffee is served, cultural salons and writing groups are organized, and literary festivals and music sharing sessions are held. The bookstore has witnessed the changes in the reading habits of Chengdu people and at the same time affected local people’s cultural practices.

Goff has travelled extensively in China, because he enjoys the freedom of travelling here and there and is eager to touch the soul of the Chinese culture.

Like many expats in Chengdu, Golf was most impressed with the spicy hotpots and the adorable giant pandas when he first arrived in Chengdu. However, what made Goff unwilling to leave Chengdu most is the city’s time-honored culture.

“There is a long history of literature, teahouse…,”Goff said in Chinese.

To Goff, Chengdu has the kind of mystery and culture he has never experienced or touched before, so he moved there from Beijing.

The bookstore is both a quiet and a bustling place due to its smart spatial and functional designs, which feature a chic combination of Chinese and western elements.

One may be surprised to know that Goff himself is the chief designer of the bookstore.

The bookstore sells not only foreign-language books and magazines familiar to Chinese readers like Harry Potter and Lonely Planet, but also books less known in the Chinese market.

Currently, it has 16,000 books and magazines available for purchase, almost the size of a small library.

Among The Bookworm’s achievements so far, the biggest one should be The Bookworm International Literary Festival it started ten years ago. This annual event invites more than 1,000 writers from all around the world for attendance every year. It helps introduce young Chinese writers to the international market so that the world can learn more about China’s contemporary literature. It is an occasion that promotes the integration of different cultures.

Canada’s Donoghue Emma, who authored Room, America’s National Book Award winner Colum McCann, Israel’s David Grossman, as well as noted Chinese writers including Mo Yan, Yan Lianke and Bi Feiyu have all been distinguished guests at the event.

Goff has so far opened three same-name bookstores in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou respectively. The store in Suzhou is the youngest and yet is already ten years old.

Apart from being a store owner, Goff has another identity, the husband of a Sichuanese girl.

He and his wife Peiyi fell in love with each other at first sight in 2010 and got married in 2013. The two came to know each other because of their common enthusiasm for promoting public welfare.

Back then, Peiyi worked in a foreign company and often took up some volunteer work in her spare time. Goff, who is also warmhearted in promoting public good, held a position in a charity foundation.

In 2010, Goff’s foundation supported the rebuilding of a kindergarten in Wenchuan, a county in Sichuan that was devastated by a powerful earthquake in 2008. Peiyi happened to be also on the program as a coordinator and translator. This opportunity enabled the two to know each other better.

“He is mature and steady,” Peiyi said. After so many years, she still feels sweet when recalling their first meeting. Nineteen years her elder, Goff was not only very considerate but also very romantic.

Peiyi is simple, forthright and sincere. Although she does not set conditions for their relationship, care about how Golf shows his affection for her, or ask for pleasant surprises, Goff often creates romantic moments for their relationship.

“He remembers my birthday more clearly than I do,” said Peiyi.

Needless to mention such romantic holidays as the Valentine’s Day.

“He always told me long in advance that Valentine was coming,”Peiyi said.

The two often enjoy a hearty meal together that very day and present each other a gift they have thoughtfully prepared.

Their cross-border relationship, one of equality, freedom and affection, was not opposed by Peiyi’s parents.

To Peiyi’s surprise, Goff won himself praises from her parents with his maturity and reliability.

“I am the only child of my family, but surprisingly, my elders did not oppose our relationship at all,”she said.

After their marriage, the two have lived a simple but love-filled life.

“We both have high standards on spiritual life,”said Peiyi.

The first thing we do in the morning after getting up is turning on BBC and then discuss the the global affairs broadcasted.

“We pay attention to all news items, no matter which country they are about,”she said.

The two are also both passionate about interior decoration and often visit home furnishing markets in their spare time.

However, the thing that bonds them most is love for literature. Peiyi helps out whenever there is an event at The Bookworm.

The Bookworm Literary Festival has earned a place in the world’s literary circle. It is a member of The World Alliance.

Goff and Peiyi have been invited to literary festivals held elsewhere in the world.

“We even spent our honeymoon in passing when attending a literary festival abroad,” said Peiyi.

Bookstores are something Goff is obsessed with. Whenever he travels, he will surely visit local bookstores, especially the small and old ones. Sometimes, the shop assistant comes over to him to ask what his interest is and then finds for him exactly what he wants. Some other times, the shop assistant will first observe when Goff skims through books aimlessly and then recommend to him books based on their observation.

“You might have never heard about the books and authors (they recommend),” Goff said.

Goff appreciates the shop assistants for their good knowledge of the books.

When it comes to The Bookworm, Goff tries to make it something unusual.

“I want to make it a supermarket selling food for the mind,”said Goff.

Goff hopes to bring readers and writers closer and bring creative people together.

The bookstore, with its positioning and distinctive features, has won Goff a great reputation. Lonely Planet called it one of the “world’s greatest bookstores”in 2011. The Bookworm was the only Asian bookstore to win the distinction that year.

“Lonely Planet said the bookstore does a lot more than sell books,” said Goff.

Wang Guoping, a writer from Dujiangyan, Sichuan, strongly felt that. He attended the First China-Europe International Literary Festival jointly organized by The Bookworm and the Delegation of the European Union to China last November in Beijing and Chengdu. Also attending the festival were another 28 award-winning writers from China and Europe.

“Chengdu has never been a conservative and closed city, as epitomized by the festival,”said Wang Guoping.

Attendance at the festival has enabled Wang to have a deeper understanding of Chengdu’s strength, and for Goff, he was organizing the event to make The Bookworm an ideal bookstore.

(Based on a Chinese story by West China City Daily)


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