A cultural mix of literature and coffee



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“Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.” – Stephane Mallarme

Sun Ganlu quoted the French poet when creating the Sinan Book Club in 2014.

Sun, who rose to literary stardom as a avant-garde writer in the 1980s, seemed overwhelmed when he became the mastermind behind a book club.

It was a time when brick and mortar bookstores were shutting down all over the world. A book club looked like something from the last century – the Shanghai of the 1980s – a nostalgic one that many remember with a rich cultural vibe.

It was in the 1980s when Sun published books like “I Am a Young Drunk,” which is still reprinted over 30 years later.

Sun’s public figure, like his pioneering writing, is anything but outdated.

For many, he is “this author who paraded on the Hermès catwalk”, in reference to a Hermès fashion show in 2008 when he joined a few other Chinese intellectuals to be a guest model.

To his writer friends, Sun is someone straight out of a French New Wave movie or a gracious middle-aged knight straight out of a martial arts novel. He plays the piano, sings opera, keeps both classical and rock music on his playlist, and enjoys both eight-hour Russian dramas and fast-paced American sitcoms.

He was confident to start a book club in one of Shanghai’s most expensive neighborhoods in 2014, when many said no one was reading books anymore.

He was asked to choose the Shanghai he preferred – the nostalgic for the 1980s or the current one better known as a center of commerce and fashion – and he defied the choice. Instead, he insisted that culture, fashion and commerce are closely linked in this city.

“If you look at the book club, you will see that the cultural vibe and the tradition of reading has never gone away in this city. A lot of people have come and even sat on the floor,” Sun said.

“Fashion, well done, is also a culture. And a book, if it is poorly written, is not. Mallarmé said that everything in the world exists to end up in a book, so in a broader sense with several layers, everything can be “written” in a book. “

Now, seven years later, the book club has not only survived, it has also become a fashionable cultural hub in the city’s commercial center.

Long lines are often seen inside the grounds on weekends, not outside the trendy shops, cafes or restaurants nearby, but outside the book club.

It often takes two hours to queue for weekly events, as more bookstores, publishers and cultural product companies join the outdoor fair afterwards.

A pop-up bookstore opened in 2017, featuring a different writer as a store manager every day for two months. It was so popular that it returned for two consecutive winters and then turned into a permanent bookstore within the grounds.

Like many bookstores that have opened in the city in recent years, it has a photogenic interior, a coffee bar, and a literature-related memorabilia section.

In honor of Sun, Shanghai has all kinds of places for coffee. The bistros, bakeries and cafes of 1980s and 1990s Shanghai were unique symbols on the city’s busiest streets. Since then, this trend has spread to every dimly lit corner of the city – in longtang (track), farmland and metro stations – and become “a common scene in the landscape of Shanghai”.

It has also spread to bookstores, a trend Sun is celebrating.

“You see more cafes coming in with book shelves and more bookstores with coffee bars. It’s a natural development meeting the demands of today’s lifestyle in a metropolis like Shanghai,” Sun said. .

“This is one of the recent attempts to bring the books and writers of your daily life closer to existing readers. We have also experimented with different ideas through the Sinan Book Club, trying to bring professional, academic reading. and literary in public spaces, closer to the daily life of the inhabitants of the city. “

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