In early January, when the first temporary Sinan Bookshop－a literary "pop-up" performance venue that ran for 60 days starting on Nov 6, 2017－shut up shop, many visitors hoped that the cozy wooden structure would become a permanent fixture.
Every day from 4 to 8 pm, the heart-shaped cabin, which sparkled like a diamond when lit up at night, became a hub for visitors to interact with a host of different writers, publishing-house editors and literary critics.
Shen Yu, an editor at Century Horizon publishing house, was tasked with selecting the books for the 30-square-meter store, while editors from the Shanghai Century Publishing Group, like 30-year-old Gu Zhen, were on hand to recommend titles to readers.
Following the launch in April of the permanent Sinan Bookshop in a small courtyard in the historic Sinan Mansion complex, Kan Ninghui, vice-president of Shanghai Century Publishing Group and a founder of the store, described it as a "beating heart of books" in Shanghai. Kan reiterated the comment at last month's Chengdu International Bookstore Forum hosted by the Fang Suo Commune.
The definition of a physical bookstore has changed tremendously over the past five years in China, as brick-andmortar outlets attempt to confront the challenges presented by the rise of the internet and e-commerce, which has tended to fragment people's reading habits while revolutionizing their shopping habits. This has led to concerns that fewer people will make time to frequent bookshops and read long-form literature.
So, physical bookstores in China have started cooperating more closely with publishers in more diversified ways to attract more readers in recent years. They not only hope to improve sales but also aspire to create "a new reading wave" and associated lifestyle that leads to a more book-friendly society.
This year the forum's organizer invited more publishers from Britain, France and Japan, and also speakers from exemplar bookshops that have close partnerships with publishers to share ideas about how to attract more readers.
Kan was deputy chief of Shanghai's press and publication bureau in charge of the Shanghai Book Fair from 2008 to 2014. Visitor numbers to the 20,000-square-meter book fair increased from tens of thousands to around 300,000 over the following years.
For Kan, good taste in literature is key to attracting more readers to book fairs and bookshops.
Before 2011, organizers floated several ideas on how to attract more readers to the Shanghai Book Fair. "We wondered whether we should enlarge the space to allow more readers to attend, or offer more discounts, or invite more bestselling writers to attract people's attention," Kan says.
"We finally chose another path, and one that wasn't about entertainment or big discounts. Instead, we set up the Shanghai International Literature Week, adding literary, international and academic elements to the book fair," he says.
"We used literature and writers to attract an extensive range of readers, international elements to improve the quality of the book fair and academic sections to define the direction of its development."
Over the past eight years, more than 200 writers, including four Nobel Prize-winning authors, have attended the literary week during the Shanghai Book Fair to deliver speeches and meet with readers.
"Even during the hot weather in August, when temperatures reach 42 C, it's common to see people form a 200-meter line at the entrance of the Shanghai Exhibition Center where the book fair takes place," Kan says.
During the first weekend of the Shanghai Book Fair 2018, even after three typhoons had swept over the city, the lines stretched even farther. At the same time, more than 1,000 book events were held in bookstores across the city.
As the annual book fair ended in late August, many Shanghai residents hoped that such events would turn into permanent, year-round fixtures.
And with the weekly Sinan Book Club and the 60-day temporary Sinan Bookshop leading to the permanent Sinan Bookshop in Sinan Mansion－a 640-square-meter, four-story house once occupied by patriotic general Feng Yuxiang and well-known poet Liu Yazi－this "golden location" has again become a focal point for literature in the city.
A short stretch of narrow spiral stairs leads up to the bookshop, where book lovers find the decor and lighting resemble those of a typical Shanghai mansion in the early 1900s. Visitors can spend an entire day there, sitting on leather sofas or chairs, drinking coffee and reading.
Over half of the books are in Chinese. There are some 2,500 titles on history and philosophy, 2,000 books on literature and magazines, many art books and special areas created to host reading events.
There is also a dedicated section for the London Review Bookshop, whose team draws up book lists for Shanghai's readers and updates the list of the 500 latest English book titles. Meanwhile, Sinan Bookshop's choices of Chinese books will appear on the LRB's shelves in London, too.
"Sinan Bookshop is the fruit of cooperation among governmental bodies, a writers' association and the publishing group. They provide different elements: human resources, talent, books and space," Kan says.
"Sinan Bookshop could best represent the metropolis－the spirit, the look, the book choices and the whole atmosphere. When you sit on the couch at Sinan, it's like you are sitting in some Shanghai resident's cozy home. We mean to create a sitting room for the city, the beating heart of books for book lovers."