Room for Debate 我有话要说

April 22, 2019 2019年4月22日

Click here to read the uncut international version of this article.

Not just a bookstore, not quite a library, more than a restaurant or bar: what exactly is the Beijing Bookworm? Its motto, “Eat, Drink, Read,” offers a straightforward set of principles, but even a quick stop by this legendary institution makes clear that it’s more than just a place to—in either sense—get lit. The Bookworm buzzes with intellectual energy, attracting novelists, academics, foreign correspondents, and book lovers of all stripes who come by to meet friends or hear a talk by a scholar passing through. It’s the center, or one of the centers, of English-language cultural life in China’s capital, and throughout the year, its lectures, concerts, and children’s story hours draw expats and locals alike.

Without a doubt, the highlight of all this activity is the annual Bookworm Literary Festival, which this March wrapped up its twelfth year. Every spring, speakers come from around the world to talk about literature, politics, current affairs, technology, business, art, and anything else people write books about. Highlights from this edition included Kai-Fu Lee on AI, Leta Hong-Fincher on gender equality, and Helen Zia on Shanghai on the eve of the Communist revolution. Spittoon, a literary collective, organized a series of sessions on Chinese literature, featuring poets and fiction writers reading excerpts of their work while their translators discussed the challenges of bringing the texts into English.


不是纯粹的书店,也称不上是图书馆,更不只是餐厅或酒吧:究竟要怎样定义北京老书虫这个略带传奇色彩的地方?它的座右铭“吃、喝 、读”直截了当地表明了这个空间的原则。但只要一踏入老书虫你就能发现,这里不只是一个让你寻乐酣饮、或单纯埋首书堆的地方。北京老书虫充满着蓬勃的知识氛围,吸引着小说家、学者、外国记者、各种书籍爱好者前来与好友相聚、或是听某位学者举办的一场演讲。这里曾是北京英语文化生活的中心之一,常年举办的各种讲座、音乐会和儿童故事活动都深受外国人和当地人的欢迎。

而在这些所有活动中,最大的亮点是一年一度的老书虫文学节(Bookworm Literary Festival)。在今年三月,北京老书虫刚刚结束第十二届的文学节。每逢春季,来自世界各地的学者来到这里,一起谈论文学、政治、时事、科技、商业、艺术等话题。今年的亮点包括李开复讲述人工智能的讲座,Leta Hong Fincher(洪理达)谈论性别平等、作家谢汉兰讲述解放前夕的上海。北京的文学杂志《Spittoon》还在此组织了一系列中国本地文学的活动,邀请诗人和小说家阅读他们作品的节选,而这些作品的译者也前来分享翻译途中所遇到的挑战。

The Bookworm first opened its doors in 2005, but its origins go back a few years further, to a sort of informal lending library that Alexandra Pearson, a British woman living in Beijing, slowly amassed as departing friends from abroad gave her the books they couldn’t ship home. Pearson also organized talks by experts on various topics at Le Petit Gourmand, the French restaurant she helped run in Sanlitun, Beijing’s embassy and nightlife district. But when her library outgrew her apartment, and the restaurant had to close to make way for the Taikoo Li mall, some of her friends suggested she give her titles a permanent home—a place for eating, drinking, reading, and above all for talking about anything and everything related to China.

北京老书虫从 2005 年开始营业,它的真正起源可以再往前几年追溯到一个私人借阅图书馆。当时,来自英国的 Alexandra Pearson 来到北京生活,有许多外国朋友在离开北京时常常将一些无法寄回家的书留给她,慢慢地她积累了越来越多的藏书。与此同时,Alexandra 还在一家她参与运营的法国餐厅 Le Petit Gourmand 组织各类主题的专家讲座。这家餐厅位于北京三里屯,是外国大使馆和夜生活中心所在。但是,随着藏书逐渐超出了她的公寓所能容纳的数量,加上新建的太古里商场令餐厅被迫关闭营业,她的一些朋友建议她给自己的藏书一个永久的家,一个可以“吃、喝、读”,更重要的是,一个可以供人们谈天论地、讨论一切有关中国话题的地方。

That home, in a second-story space amid a clutch of international bars and restaurants in Sanlitun, consists of a café area with a full menu and eight beers on tap, an event space off to the side, and a small bookstore in the back, with a rooftop terrace up above overlooking the neighboring buildings. The walls are lined in books, but most of them aren’t for sale: the Bookworm still runs a library, with over 20,000 titles for a few hundred members. “A lot of storytellers, a lot of intellectuals, a lot of people who have a relationship to books, and to Beijing, come here looking for a place to call home,” says Karen Tong, who manages the Bookworm’s events. “It’s fun, it’s chill, and it’s a bit retro.” Pearson moved away several years ago, and now two of the other original investors, Peter Goff and David Cantalupo, run the space and the festival.

而这个“家”,最终落脚在一幢二层建筑楼里,藏匿于三里屯林立的国际酒吧和餐馆中。店内包含了一个拥有完整菜单和 8 种桶装啤酒的餐饮空间,一个活动展演空间,还有在后方的一个小书店,以及一个可以俯瞰邻近建筑的屋顶露台。店内的墙壁一字排开摆满书籍,但其中大部分都是非卖品:北京老书虫仍然管理着一家图书馆,拥有超过两万多本藏书,数百名会员。北京老书虫的经理 Karen Tong 说:“很多小说家、知识分子、爱好读书和喜欢北京的人都喜欢到这里来,在这里他们能获得归属感。这是一间很有趣、很酷的店,还有点复古气息。”几年前在 Alexandra 搬走后,就由另外两位原始投资者 Peter Goff 和 David Cantalupo 管理着这个空间和组织文学节。

Karen Tong
David Cantalupo
Peter Goff

Since 2007, the Bookworm has put on a festival every year except one: in 2017 the sponsorship fell through, and the organizers decided to take a much-needed break. It fluctuates in size, and they chose to keep the 2019 edition manageable—and even so, it spanned two weeks. “The festival remains extremely influential and popular,” says Cantalupo. “We’ve never had a big corporate sponsor, so we’ve always run it on a shoestring.”

How does a handful of people manage to put on such an exceptional event? “We’ve been an important part of the international cultural scene here,” says Cantalupo. That helps them get sponsorship from embassies and other international institutions: Ireland, Australia, and France supported this year’s event, while the main financial backing came from international schools. Another factor is the tenacity of the owners, Goff in particular, who, in the face of financial and other pressures, continues to invite high-profile speakers.

从 2007 年以来,北京老书虫每年都会举办文学节。除了 2017 年之外,因为当时赞助告吹,加上主办方急需休息调整。文学节的规模时大时小,浮动很大, 2019 年他们决定将规模控制在可以应付的范围内。即便如此,这次的文学节也整整跨越了两周时间。“这个文学节一直非常有影响力,也很受欢迎。” David 说:“我们从来没有过大型的商业赞助商,所以在运营上一直都比较节制。”

如何依靠这么少的工作人员,就成功组织出如此精彩的活动?David 说:“我们可以说是本地国际文化氛围的重要组成分子。”因此,他们获得了大使馆和其他国际机构的赞助,今年有来自爱尔兰、澳大利亚和法国的赞助商,但主要的经济支持来自于国际学校。另一个成功的重要因素是老板们,尤其是 Peter。尽管面临着财务和其他方面的压力,他仍然坚持邀请各种著名的演讲家来参加文学节。

In the decade and a half since the Bookworm opened its doors, the surrounding Sanlitun area has been torn down and rebuilt. Shops and apartment blocks have given way to sprawling retail complexes, and now the area feels less like a neighborhood than a collection of international malls. Just a few yards away from the Bookworm, the Intercontinental Hotel towers above, a purple light show dancing across its honeycomb façade like a screensaver.

China has changed, too: in 15 years the economy has quintupled in size, and the country has become more tightly linked to the rest of the world. As a space for discussion and exchange, the Bookworm plays an ever more vital role. It’s one of the places where China meets the world—to eat, drink, read, and talk.  That’s something to raise a glass to.

从北京老书虫 15 年前开业至今,三里屯周边地区已被拆迁重建。商店和公寓楼已让位给庞大的购物中心。现在,这里已经不再是充满生活气息的街区,而更像是各种国际商场的集中地。距离北京老书虫不远处是高耸的洲际酒店,紫色的灯光秀像一个屏幕保护程序,在它的蜂窝状外墙上跳动着。


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WeChat: BeijingBookworm


Contributor: Allen Young
Photographer: David Yen



微信: BeijingBookworm


供稿人: Allen Young
摄影师: David Yen

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