These books are made for reading ─ and walking

Living in the age of information technology and social media, it’s hard to imagine that sitting down with a good book was once a way of entertaining yourself.
Ti Gong

Participants take part in the orientation walk tour to bookstores in Xuhui District.

Living in the age of information technology, social media and everything at your fingertips on a mobile phone, it’s hard to imagine that sitting down with a good book was once a way of entertaining yourself. 

But two weeks ago, dozens of keen readers flocked to the annual Shanghai Book Fair to participate in the Xuhui Walk and Read Marathon to show that the tradition is not dead yet.

More than 100 readers gathered from across the city to read and take part in a six-hour race, which started at 7:30am on August 19. It was composed of an orientation walk in the morning to five bookstores in Xuhui District, and then a reading marathon at Xuhui Library in the afternoon. 

Participants were divided into 20 teams of five members each. The one who finished the walk the quickest, read the fastest and scored the highest in the reading comprehension test would win.

“People often say, ‘Either your body or your soul must be on the way,’ but today both our body and soul are on the way,” said Wang Ying, one of the team leaders, who came all the way from northern Shanghai's Baoshan District to The Mix Place, a chic coffee and bookstore on Hengshan Road.

Born in the 1990s, Wang, a graphic designer, says she prefers to read on her mobile  phone while traveling back and forth to work on the Metro. She likes to read books on history because “they teach me valuable life lessons that I didn’t learn in school.”

Liu Sihong, a member from Wang's team, likes jogging as well as reading. A chemist working at a pharmacy in the Pudong New Area, Liu’s favorite books this year are Peter Hessler’s China trilogy, namely “Country Driving,” “River Town” and “Oracle Bones.”

“As a foreign writer, his (Hessler’s) detailed observations of the Chinese society and people make me see China through the eyes of the world, which offers valuable insights into our own behaviors as well as the changes in the past six decades,” Liu said.

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Having taken part in the first reading marathon initiated by Shanghai Library in April this year, Xu Ying is also a big fan of reading and meeting fellow book worms through different events. 

“It’s like finding a clan of my type. I always obtain a state of peace when I focus on reading,” she said.

Unlike most of the participants who rode either bike or scooter or took taxi to finish the morning bookstore orientation tour, Xu walked all the way to the other four designated bookstores within Xuhui District ─ starting from a reading space hidden in the ready-to-open Capella Hotel in Jian Ye Li, a large cluster of historical shikumen (stone gate) houses on Jianguo Road W., to the bookstore cafe on the first floor of the Shanghai Boku Bookstore on Yishan Road, bypassing the Dayin Bookman in the historic Normandie Apartments, a Hudec masterpiece built in 1924 on Huaihai Road M., and Reading Tunnel, a VR bookstore newly built and tech-supported by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“There are a lot of indie bookstores in Shanghai, and I’d love to visit them all. Varying in size and design, they offer a good place where I can lie back, have a cup of coffee and read,” said Xu, 34, a teacher at the Shanghai Theater Academy.

If the bookstore tour was a teaser of the event, the reading marathon at the Xuhui Library afterward laid out a real battlefield where all participants had to "fight" to win.

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The book to read for the day was from a collection of selected speeches delivered by a number of household names in literature, history, folklore and music, who came to grace the weekend lecture held by the Xuhui Library over the past decade.

Topics of the lectures include classic reviews of Tolstoy’s "Resurrection" and Lao She’s "Teahouse," children’s literature and philosophy, digital reading and future of library, the Bund architecture and art, as well as the food, language and women in Shanghai.

Most of the participants finished the reading within three hours and used the rest of the hour to finish the reading comprehension test on their mobile phones, plus a 200-word review on paper to evaluate the book.

“Usually a full-length reading marathon takes six hours, but today we made it a walk and read marathon just to attract more young people,” said Fang Yunfang, director of the Xuhui Library.

According to Fang, the elderly and junior readers from the neighborhoods are usually the major target of community libraries. In the past, they teamed up with the Metro City, a shopping center specializing in electronic products in Xujiahui, to hold speeches and reading events to boost the popularity of reading among young people from different walks of life. And she found the reading marathon a good format to bring them in.

“The post of event registration on our library app was forwarded more than 1,000 times within seconds after it got published! And we had to change the participant number to 100 to meet the demand,” Fang told Shanghai Daily.

Among the participants from all reading-age groups across the city, the oldest was a woman in her 60s and the youngest a 12-year-old boy. The winner of the day was a team of five young white-collar workers with an average age of 25.

All of them finished the reading within the scheduled time, and the accuracy of the comprehension tests was over 95 percent. 

Author Xue Liyong, who was in the Xuhui Library to give a lecture on the construction of Shanghai in the 1930s that afternoon, said: “It’s the first time in many years that I have seen so many young people reading together. Compared with the students who usually filled the city’s libraries as of the early 1980s, this generation of young people understand exactly what reading is about.”

Ti Gong
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