The Quest for English Literature in Seoul

There’s still something magical about bookstores. Perhaps it’s the distinct smell that old tomes have after years of service. Maybe it’s the massive walls of books that reminds us of all the knowledge there is in our world. For me, it’s the thrill of flipping through piles of books to find one that resonates with me on a deeply personal level – a feeling that an e-book catalogue would never be able to capture.

Now, if you’re like me and find yourself in Korea with an incredibly limited command of the Korean language, finding a good read in English can appear next to impossible. Fear not! Seoul, being an international city, has a few places that are devoted to the buying and selling of books that aren’t in Korean. I’ve taken the liberty to check out some of these places to see just what they have to offer, and I actually found some books that that I’ve been meaning to read too!

What the Book

Initially an online seller, What the Book is a shop based out of Itaewon (이태원) in Seoul. The great thing about this store is that it’s well organized and easy to browse their selection. Their friendly staff also speaks English, so if you need help finding a book, they can help you out. The most impressive thing about this shop is its wide selection of genres which includes, but isn’t limited to, self-help, the classics, romance novels, and children’s books. Their science fiction section is especially large, stocked by many gently used copies of older novels.

What the Book Sci-Fi Collection What the Book Classics Shelf

How to Get to What the Book

Using the subway, you’ll want to take line 6 (the brown line) to Itaewon station (이태원역). Use exit 1 and walk down the street for about 5 minutes. What the Book will be on the right on the second floor.

 What the Book Entrance


Itaewon Foreign Bookstore

Now this bookstore is a very special place. I did some research about this place, and apparently the owner started their business out by collecting old books discarded by the nearby U.S. military facility. The result is a tiny store that’s packed with tons of used books from the floor to the ceiling, and I’m not even exaggerating. The coolest part about this store is that its collection isn’t limited to English alone. Some of the other languages I ran across in the store were Spanish, Japanese, and Russian.

If you come to this store, be prepared to do some searching. Besides category, the store has no other form of organization. That being said, this collection is bound to have a rare copy of a book that has since gone out of print. Also, the owners know enough English to help you find a certain genre you may be looking for. I was able to find many texts on a variety of subjects in English from photography to Japanese cooking. I even found a few SAT (a standardized college entrance exam in the U.S.) subject review books. This is a place for true bookworms that are looking for something beyond the standard literature in this decade.

Foreign Bookstore Shelf Foreign Bookstore Stair of Books Itaewon Foreign Bookstore Exterior


How to Get to Itaewon Foreign Bookstore

Take Line 6 to the Noksapeyong station (녹사평역) and walk out of Exit 2. Walk down the street until you find an underpass to cross the street. You’ll want to use the right exit. Now walk down the street until you see the yellow sign that says “BOOK”.

Itaewon Foreign Bookstore Sign

Now, these are just two out of the handful of bookstores out in Seoul that specialize in foreign texts. Actually, I heard that the Seoul Metropolitan Library (서울시립도서관) has an entire floor devoted to global literature, so I’ll have to check that out on a later date. In the meantime, I have to go read the books I found in these stores I mention!


Article by Eli from the U.S.A.


  1. Also some big book stores have imported books written in English. such as Kyobo and YPbooks.

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