How does one go about shuttering a happy, thriving and successful bookshop? This is a question that has been plaguing me for some time now.
From the very beginning, my goal for Bleak House Books has been a modest one: to build a viable, self-sustaining, community-oriented bookshop on my terms. Four years later I can say that I have achieved that goal, thanks in part to the persistence and efforts of my wonderful bookshop family and also to the support of our readers and the community.
So it is with great sadness that I need to announce that Bleak House Books will be closing. The last day the bookshop will be open to the public will be Friday, 15 October 2021, and the last day we will fulfill online orders placed with us will be Friday, 1 October 2021.
The decision to close the bookshop follows another equally painful and sad decision, which is that my family and I will be leaving Hong Kong in the near future. As much as I would prefer not to have to disclose this in a public announcement, I believe I have a responsibility to the people who support the work that we do here at Bleak House Books to be honest and transparent about the reason for why I need to close the bookshop.
The backdrop to these developments is, of course, politics. To be sure, what my wife Jenny, my kids, and I do in our daily lives is not overtly political. Jenny is a university professor, I sell books, and the kids are primary school students. But as George Orwell once remarked, ‘[i]n our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues.’ This observation is as true today as it was in 1940 when Orwell first made it. And given the state of politics in Hong Kong, Jenny and I can no longer see a life for ourselves and our children in this city, at least in the near future.
Some of you might be wondering why I decided to close the bookshop rather than sell or find someone else to run it. There’s no single answer to that question. Bleak House Books is an independent bookshop. And like any other independent bookshop, it has its own unique character, voice and mission. It is my preference to keep it that way. Also, to hand the reins over now after only four years of bookselling seems a bit premature to me. There are many things I still want to do and say, and of course, many more books I’d still like to share with everyone.
My immediate concern for the next month-and-a-half will be keeping Bleak House Books open until the very last minute of the very last day for our readers, our community and Hong Kong. We have some fun stuff planned, so it’s not all doom and gloom from here on out.
I recently put in a large order for new books — our last — that has brought to the bookshop some old favorites, special selections from our resident and far-flung bookworms, and also the random selection from Ye Olde Bookseller for which Angel, my trusty shop manager, will invariably tell me: ‘but no one’s going to buy that, boss!’ We will also have one last poetry reading with our good friends at Cha literary journal, the theme for which is ‘LOVE’. And maybe I’ll finally break down and buy a beer fridge so I can have the proverbial ‘last beer’ with anyone who wants to have one with me at the bookshop before it closes.
There will, however, be no farewell party, and no clearance sale. For those books we have left at the bookshop and in storage after the last day we will donate most of them to any independent bookshop or local institution that wants them. We will make sure our Pickwick Club subscribers and readers who have placed special orders with us get the books they are supposed to get. And we will return all the books given to us for sale on consignment back to their rightful owners.
Having started this announcement with a question, it is perhaps fitting to end it with one as well, which is: what will happen to Bleak House Books after this? And my answer is: ‘I don’t know exactly’. We are living in uncertain, even dangerous times and for those reasons it is very hard to plan ahead. What I can promise everyone is that this is not the end. It is not the end of Bleak House Books. It is not the end of our journey. It is not the end of anything really.
I was asked by a friend what I will miss most about Hong Kong when I leave. Strangely I couldn’t articulate to her what those things might be even though I knew I would miss a lot of things about this city. The truth is I don’t have the mental energy to ‘miss’ anything about Hong Kong yet because my focus is what I can do for the city here and now. Maybe there will come a time when I can spend a lazy afternoon thinking and reminiscing about what life was like in Hong Kong during this 大時代. But that time is not now. There is still a lot of work to be done and I intend to do as much of it as I can before my time here is up. 香港人，加油！