Like a literary oasis, Bleak House Books offers their customers a comfy reading environment and many more curated serendipity.
What’s better than enjoying a nice read at home? Whether it’s dystopian novels, graphic novels, or books by Chinese authors or Japanese authors, reading gives you a better understanding of this complicated world. Located in the heart of San Po Kong, independent bookstore Bleak House Books was established by ex-lawyer Albert Wan. Not only is this cosy bookshop painted with a unique flair, it has got a fantastic collection of second-hand English books, including vintage paperbacks, classics and hardback fiction. We chatted with Albert about his switch in profession and curating a comfortable reading environment.
A chat with Albert Wan, owner of Bleak House Books
Hi, Albert. Thanks for chatting with us. What kind of a reading space are you trying to create at Bleak House Books?
Just a place where people come in and feel comfortable hanging out for a while to read books. A place that doesn’t feel too cluttered which is the case for a lot of used bookshops. Also, we like the fact that we’re in this outskirt of Kowloon, so people feel like they’re making a pilgrimage to the bookshop even though it isn’t always good for business (laughs).
What does Bleak House Books stand for?
The name is based on a novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It talks about a family’s long-running legal case and it’s like a criticism of the legal system that was nonexistent in Britain at the time the book was written. I picked it because it reminds me of the time when I was a lawyer.
What caused such major career transition, from being a lawyer to an owner of a bookshop?
My wife and I used to live in Atlanta, we’re here in Hong Kong because she got a job and she now teaches at HKUST. At that point I felt like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do as a lawyer, and I wouldn’t have any regrets if I switch profession. I’ve always been a reader and I decided a bookstore would be a good way to do something different. I’ve never done retail or owned any small business other than my solo practice as a lawyer. Having a bookstore means you’re open up to the public and the community. People can come and buy books, have events here; it’s a lot of work but it has been fun.
What sorts of books does Bleak House Books usually feature?
We have lots of fiction, comics, kids’ books, Hong Kong and China books, even sheet music. We try to have something from every genre but at the same time try not to clutter up the store with too many books. There are a lot of people here that are into comics, but you kind of have to find them, or they need to find you. And I always thought it’s a great way for people to learn English, my son is six and he loves reading comics. It’s a good way to have a story told in a very visual and imaginative way.
What’s your favourite section in the store?
We have these vintage paperbacks which no one really buys, but we just like having them around. They just deteriorate by the day, so by the end of this year, you’ll probably see half of them gone before they get eaten up by insects (laughs). I bought them in Florida from a friend who owns a vintage bookshop. The texts are old stories that were written long time ago, it’s not really the stories that are that original, but the covers and the art are really cool.
What do you think separates you guys from all the big chain bookstores and popular websites?
We have more freedom in what we will or can carry in terms of titles. I mean we’re not super political, we do have books about politics but we don’t take the angle one way or the other. But at the same time we also stock books that some chain bookstore may not be willing to stock maybe because they’re too sensitive. Popular websites don’t really concern me, even though sometimes I panic (laughs). It’s not like I can compete with them. Our focus is different, we don’t try to carry every title on the face of the planet. We try to have a well curated variety of books that we think are interesting, well-written and nice to look at.
Which book is your current favourite?
These days the only time I really read is to my kids, I just finished reading to them Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, which I read as a kid. I enjoyed reading it to them and they got a kick from it. I love detective novels too, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. And I also end up reading a lot of books about war lately, war really provides good material for writers.
Bleak House Books, Unit 2705, Well Tech Centre, 9 Pat Tat Street, San Po Kong, Hong Kong, 新蒲崗八達街9號威達工貿商業中心2705號鋪