One of the chief complaints of foreigners living throughout this region concerns the limited supply of English-language books.
In this city at least, Artbook has been working on solving the problem since 2004, when it opened as a highly specialized book boutique stocking technical volumes on furniture and graphic design. This move, of course, was a dream come true for only a very small section of the community, but it did prove successful: Artbook now has several outlets and has expanded its range across the spectrum, stocking novels, children’s books, and even souvenirs and crafts.
Non-fiction volumes on topics such as architecture, programming, and design still feature heavily as niche items, but one of the key innovations in the shop’s history was the realization of the demand for materials about Vietnam. At a time when the Lonely Planet was the most commonly referred-to resource for information on this country even amongst those foreigners who lived here, Artbook began to invest in books about Vietnam, particularly those with stunning photo essays. Many titles are published by Artbook itself.
Nowadays, the Tri Books outlet at 158 Dong Khoi is probably the bestknown of the store’s locations, and with its high quality range of souvenirs (again, many of which are self-produced), it’s commonly frequented by tourists as well as local residents. Among the more curious products are the range of contemporary cinema posters (VND120,000) designed in traditional Vietnamese print style, making this an excellent place to pick up unofficial movie merchandise, including the occasional odd mash-up – I noticed a Matt Ranzetta graphic reworking the classic Spielberg Empire of the Sun poster with Star Wars themes that still manages to resemble a propaganda pin-up.
Oi’s Pick: Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc (VND 550,000)
An enormous volume full of extraordinary insights into the people and history of this country – also available here in French.
1B1 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D1