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  15/11/2023

The Free Book Haven in Saigon

Location of the bookstore: 21 Nguyen Huu Canh, Ward 19, Binh Thanh District, opposite Dai Khanh restaurant, open from 3 PM to 10 PM.

“I’m not afraid of losing books; in fact, I’m happy about it. Books are meant to be shared, to spread knowledge to more people, making our society better,” shares Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Can, owner of the free bookstore.

Without any deposit, receipt, or obligation to return, Mr. Can’s free bookstore has been operational for over 10 years, continuously increasing its collection.

Every day at 3 PM, Mr. Can’s ‘3 no’s’ bookstore, located on Nguyen Huu Canh Street, Binh Thanh District, opens its doors. The small space of just over 10 square meters holds close to 10,000 books of various genres.

Customers can borrow books without any formalities of receipts or deposits. Mr. Can doesn’t require them to return the books after reading. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t return them. If a book reaches many readers, that’s even better,” he says.

Mr. Can’s passion for reading books sparked the idea of the free bookstore. As a child, he often “sneak-read” his favorite books in a corner of a bookstore and left without buying due to lack of money. Occasionally, he borrowed a few books from friends.

This reading habit continued into his later years. He read and collected numerous books with the dream of opening a free bookstore to sow the “seeds of reading” for those unable to afford books, like himself in the past.

In 2010, he decided to open the bookstore while still working as an office secretary for a private company. Two years later, due to his dedication to books, he voluntarily resigned to focus entirely on his free bookstore.

Since opening, he only goes home every two days. In the morning, he visits large bookstores in the city to hunt for new titles, and in the afternoon, he opens his shop until 9 PM.

To finance new books, apart from the rent, Mr. Can sells some common books. “I sell them cheaply, and if anyone doesn’t like what they bought, they can bring it back to me for a full refund. But if they borrow, they can do so freely,” he says with a smile.

Initially, the bookstore had only a few hundred books, with over 70% being Buddhist texts. As his passion grew, Mr. Can collected more varied genres to cater to a broader audience.

To save money, he didn’t buy bookshelves but instead purchased steel frames and wood planks to make his own. The shelves grew taller, reaching the ceiling, covering the wall next to the stairs, and filling his bedroom on the second floor. Now, the only free space in his room is just enough to hang a hammock to rest at night.

He has invested all his resources and energy in sharing books. The returns he cherishes are a signboard, a set of chairs, a new shirt, and such gifts from his customers. He has given away thousands of books, some of which may return to him and then reach others, while some might be “gone forever.” But all these don’t bother Mr. Can, because, after all, “WHEN A BOOK LEAVES THE STORE, KNOWLEDGE HAS BEEN SHARED,” he reflects.

Location of the bookstore: 21 Nguyen Huu Canh, Ward 19, Bình Thanh District, opposite Dai Khanh restaurant, open from 3 PM to 10 PM.

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