Fathom Bookspace: More Than Just a Bookshop

Pattaraanong Sireepipat

BANGKOK — Fathom Bookspace offers not only books, but a space for people to meet and get to know one another.

“It’s a place where people can share. Online, people can lash out at anyone on a whim. But once we see one another’s faces, we don’t need to agree, even though there’s a difference,” said Khanittha Thammapunya, 35, the co-owner.

The space in Sathon holds weekly workshops on various topics, covering everything from art appreciation, to yoga, and even speed dating. Khanittha insists the format of the workshops are casual and fluid, without a leading “expert” speaker so that people can feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

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“This is a place where people can just air out anything uncomfortable they’re feeling inside. It’s a safe place to share,” the co-founder explained.

She hopes the space can offer middle ground for people to come together not only on deeply divisive issues of Thai politics, but other topics too.

“It’s not just about politics but issues like environmental management and communities,” added Pattaraanong Sireepipat, 31, the other co-owner on Tuesday.

She recalled a memory where a customer learned the Thai word for “marginalized” (khon chai khob) for the first time at the bookspace.

“I think it’s easier to seek knowledge today [with the internet] but it’s more difficult for people to feel. Meeting new people creates new sensations,” said Khanittha.

“The online [world] is very useful but sometimes we need a physical world,” Pattaraanong added.

Pattaraanong readily admits that income from book sales alone isn’t enough to cover the bookspace’s activities. Over the past three years, the shop has sought additional income from side-projects, such as an initiative to promote reading among school children with the Rotary Club.

On one wall of the two-storey shophouse, there’s a space for people to stick post-its describing a moment that made their heart beat fast in 2019: “Meeting my favorite male model and he remembered me,” “Winning the lottery for the first time in 30 years,” “When my mom fell in the bathroom (she is 90).”

The selection of books at the shop reflect the owners’ philosophy of learning. “How to” books common and popular at Thai chain bookstores are nowhere to be found. The pair say such books are dogmatic.

“I don’t like books which are judgmental or force us to do something. If you want to be rich, you must follow these steps. Or if you want to be a good person, you must be like this. People’s lives belong to each individual,” said Pattaraanong.

Pattaraanong recommends Ken Liu’s collected short stories “The Paper Menagerie” for a good mix of sci-fi, historical-fiction and realism. The shop carries the Thai translation, which she says is fun to read.

Members at Fathom get a 10 percent discount and can borrow from the owners’ personal book collection upstairs. The shop features several translated works from Western authors and a small selection of English-language books.

Fathom Bookspace is a five-minute motorcycle ride into Soi Suan Plu from MRT Lumphini or even BTS Chong Nonsi. It’s open from 10am to 8.30pm every day, except Wednesday.

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