Monday, February 22, 2010

Where to buy history books about Korea?

I love getting new books. Something about the passing of knowledge in written form captivates me. I can't really express it more clearly than a restrained yet triumphant "아싸!".

Where is one to find English language materials? My Korean is not par enough to start reading Korean texts so in the meantime, I'm stuck acquiring new knowledge through my native language. There's many ways to get new books but it may not be as simple as one might guess. Despite the internet age, English language Korean history is still a relative niche in terms of accessibility. While far from impossible, living outside of Korea makes things considerably more difficult despite the modern convenience of worldwide delivery. I easily doubled my collection simply by living in Korea and having easy access to Korean bookstores. Normally the answer would be to order these same books over a Korean retailer's website and have them delivered internationally but we all know that a foreigner has a snowball's chance in hell in successfully ordering a product on a Korean website. So, if you live in Korea or are just visiting and want to pick up a few books during your visit, I would recommend the following places:
UPDATE: found a great link courtesy of the East Asian Libraries and Archives

- Living in Korea - 
영풍문고 - Yong Poong Bookstore
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
By far my favorite place simply because the English language section is huge. Furthermore, they have the best selection of rarities, translations of Korean literature, reprints and modern harder-to-find texts. I can't speak for their service because usually I just come in, look around and walk out with more than what I thought I was going to buy. The prices are more than reasonable. If you live in Korea, this is the place to go.

교보문고 - Kyobo Bookstore
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
The foreign book section is humongous but the Korean history books leave a lot to be desired. I can't fault them though - there's a lot to look through but you might have to hunt for them. In addition to the few shelves dedicated to Korean history, check over by the Korean language textbooks near the entrance. Plenty of reprints, culture guides, coffee table photo album books and the occasional gem or too. Kyobo also has a great ordering service. Free, quick and efficient. If it's in print and in the country, they can order for you. Just ask any of the many English speaking staff members.

밴디앤루니스 - Bandi & Lunis Bookstore
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
Don't write this one off just because there's too other power house mega-bookstores nearby. No joke - the three largest bookstores in Korea seem to be all within a stone's throw of 종각 (and 광화문). Bandi has a few other rarities in their modest section. What surprised me the most is the selection of Korean children's books in English, Fine Art texts and a few other curious additions. If you can't find what you're looking for, maybe these guys have it. Plus, it's right there in the subway stop - trust me when I say that if you've been in 종각, you've seen this bookstore.

What The Book?
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
I've personally never purchased from them but I imagine that they might be willing to help you if you were really in a jam. Other left-field choices include Aladdin books

- Living Outside of Korea -
(한국어) (English
One would think such a gigantic online retailer like Amazon would have any book written in English that's ever been published but sadly many great books are simply not available for whatever reason. It's still a great resource and I use it for my wishlist and keeping track of prices but there are just some books that won't ever be on here for some reason. Still, it's still by far the best resource for online shopping worldwide.

Royal Asiatic Society
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
Korea's branch of the Royal Asiatic Society dates back to 1900 and has published numerous personal accounts, diaries, manuals, primers and other useful texts including their own journal Transactions. They ship domestically and internationally. I've purchased several seemingly out-of-print books with ease simply via email. Being a member doesn't hurt, either. RASKB has published countless classics.

Seoul Selection
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
Online retailer and brick and mortar publisher and distributer based in Seoul, Seoul Selection is how I find out when new Korea-specific books are published. Their website is easy to use but I must admit that I have yet to purchase a book from them. Regardless, they print English and Japanese language books about Korea including some under-the-radar gems. Not to be missed.

(한국어) (English)
Ebay's textbook online retailer, I use Half when Amazon seems a bit pricey. I have countless bargains from this used and new book retailer.

Korean Historical Connection @ Hong-Ik University
(한국어) (English) (Directions)
Another service that I have yet to use but seems quite valuable. If you need a resource but don't know exactly what it is or what it might be called, get set up with them and they'll do the legwork for you and send it to you overseas.
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Of course your local Barnes and Noble might have some of the more common books but honestly with the ease of Amazon's internet interface and low prices, it's hard to justify a brick and mortar shop for this type of product. Let's face it, Korean history is not the best-selling genre that fiction or self-help is.

If you're just looking to copy or peruse through some archives, I've got the link for you. Here's a list of libraries and archives in Korea.

UPDATE: A similar post with helpful pointers can be found over at Korean Modern Literature in Translation.


Charles Montgomery said...

If you are looking for out-of-print histories, I'd suggest the "Foreigner Bookstore" by the Noksapyeong Station on Line 6. A huge pile of varied used books, but sometimes you find a real diamond in the rough.

It isn't focused entirely on history books, but here is a discussion of what I think are the best bookstores (in Korea) for foreigners:

Matthew Smith said...

Thanks Charles for the tip and the link! It's been added ^^

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