[Fragriver in Taiwan] Bookstores in Taipei: The independent bookstores/ Eslite Bookstores

Bookstores are always listed in must-visit places in almost every place I travel. I get into a habit of visiting a bookstore in any place where I visit (Of course, this bookstore should be a good one according to my own criteria), choosing some good books and recording the place, the date and signing on the first page of the book. Having one’s signature on the first page of the book seems old-fashioned now, however, just imagine yourself opening this book years later, such feeling is really amazing. Sometimes I found a book in our family’s bookshelf with my father or my mother’s signature on this, which may be dated back to 20 years ago, I feel kind of nostalgic as well as lucky for have it. Although there are thousands of blog entries regarding bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan, I just feel like to keep my own account on the bookstores I have visited in Taipei.

  1. Independent bookstores

As the capital of Taiwan, it is no doubt that the number of bookstores in Taipei outnumbers that in other cities in Taiwan. There is a wide variety of bookstores in Taipei ranging from bookstore chains for either new or used books) to independent bookstores. Independent bookstore (獨立書店) is among special features of this vibrant city and perhaps this country. In Taipei, I think it is not difficult to find an independent bookstore in a small lane or a cultural park, which maybe at the same time a coffee shop or a place where handmade souvenirs are sold. In my first month in Taipei, I attended in a speaking event regarding independent bookstores in Taipei, named Poetries from the Bookstores” (書店裡的影像詩). Poetries from the Bookstores” is a documentary filmed by Director Hou Chi-jan (侯季然), in which stories related to 40 independent bookstores and its owners all over Taiwan are featured. A picture book named “Beyond Bookstores”(書店本事), written by Fumin Yang(楊富閔)that depicted independent bookstores in Taiwan is also published. According to my observation in Taipei, I guess that “independent bookstore” is referred to one that is not run by large company or not franchised. The independent bookstores featured in the aforementioned documentary somehow represented its owners’ characteristics as well as its owners’ book preference. For example, a bookstore named “老武俠”in Taipei is ran by a taxi driver and he collected lots of wuxia novels written by Taiwanese novels (Many people often relate to wuxia novels written by Hong Kong famous writer Jin Yong but this taxi driver felt that Taiwanese wuxia novel is equally good or even better.) Or a bookstore named Brilliant Times (燦爛時光) is dedicated to sell or lend books written in South East Asian languages (Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, etc.). Fortunately, I attended an event held in NCCU relating to the first literature prize for the immigrants in Taiwan and happened to know that the initiator of this program is a Taiwanese person, who is passionate about helping South East Asian immigrants in Taiwan obtain equal human rights. You may find that series of documentaries on Youtube.

During my time here, I have been to a few independent bookstores only: Yue-yue bookstore (閱樂書店) in Songshan Creative Park, 青鳥 Bleu & Book Bookstore in Huashan 1914 (as far as I remember). These bookstores are beautifully decorated, facilitating quite a good atmosphere for readers as well as sparing some of its place for organizing small to middle-sized speaking events. Having a quick look at the book titles sold there, actually I found it difficult to realize any difference between books sold there and books sold in Eslite. Things that made it different perhaps lie in its limited offering of books/ topics and its decoration. There are several bookstores serving for specific languages, for example Librairie Le Pigeonnier (信鴿法國書店 Librairie Le Pigeonnier) for books in French or Junkudo Bookstore (台灣淳久堂書店) for books in Japanese.

2. Eslite Bookstores

When it comes to bookstore chains, Eslite clearly comes out first as the must-visit place for book lover if he/she visits Taiwan in general and Taipei in particular. I do not remember the number of Eslite bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan but I do think that I have been to most of them during my time there. While the head quarter in Xinyi is famous for offering the widest range of books, the Dunhua Branch is famous for its 24-hour opening. I also visited Eslite stores in Ximending, Songshan and Gongguan (near National Taiwan University) and each branch brought about different impression to me. Its Headquarter in Xinyi should be among the most favorite spots to hang out of mine during my time in Taipei. I still remember these days after finishing my class, I caught the bus Brown 18 or Green 1 to MRT Taipei Hall Station, walking for 5 minutes to get into the Eslite Building. It just took me another 3 minutes on the escalator to reach the 3th floor, where most of the books are exhibited. A bookworm, especially ones who can speak both English and Chinese, will find the bookstore a paradise for its wide and diversified offering of books in both English and Chinese. There are usually something surprising awaiting you. You may see a minimal exhibition of handmade craft immediately after entering the bookstore, or may see a crowd listening to a book introduction event, in my case, the event where Vivian Hsu introduced her book on bringing up her child. I imagine myself wandering first at the shelves for Chinese literature books, silently wishing that I could read these books smoothly without using the dictionary. Unlike the small bookstore I am used to going when in Vietnam, where English books of all kinds are humbly arranged in one small shelf, in Eslite, I can find thousands of English books arranged in different categories: Literature, History, Politics, Philosophy, Business, etc. Even in the Category of Literature, I can find different shelves for English Literature, American Literature, European Literature, Young Adult, Criminal, Literature Commentary, etc.  I picked up a book, walking to the nearest table or simply sitting down right at the corner when all the tables are fully occupied. Sometimes I felt sleepy and listened to the classical songs broadcast in the bookstore. Occasionally, the music stopped, a sweet voice floated in the air, saying: “Hi my dearest friend, welcome to Eslite Bookstore. How are you today? Are you happy at the moment?” (Original text: “親愛的朋友您好,歡迎您來到誠品。今天過得還好嗎?此刻感覺到幸福嗎?”.)  Simple yet touching. When not reading book, I sometimes went to the room where the speaking event took place, listening attentively to the speaker. Sometimes, I did nothing but observing people, imagining about their occupations, their characteristics, etc. All of the above may sound boring to many people but for me, whenever struggling for a moment of peace when living in Hanoi, these seemingly boring activities are always the first coming out of my mind.

Thing that makes Eslite Bookstore and other bookstores in Taipei memorable to me is its great offering of book or culture-related event. As I once mentioned in my post “The artistic side of Taipei”, it is very easy to attend book-related events in Taipei. Inside many bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan, the bookstore owner usually spare a space for a small stage, in which a cultural talkshow or book introduction event  will be held. The nice thing about it is that there is no boundary between people who participate in the event or the other readers who may walk by the bookstore. You can easily come in to join the event or leave it if you feel no more interested. The themes of these event may be varied from book introduction, experience sharing on topics like travel, life abroad, caring children to poem commentary or talkshow on a cultural incidence.

When in Taipei, other than Eslite Xinyi, I also visited Eslite Dunhua (the second most frequently visited one after Eslite Xinyi), Eslite Spectrum, Eslite Bookstore in Taipei Metro Station, Eslite Bookstore near National Taiwan University and Eslite Ximending. While Eslite Dunhua is famous for its opening hours of 24 hours/day, seven days/ week, Eslite Spectrum, located in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, impressed me with its aesthetic design. Eslite Ximending is far smaller than the other Eslite bookstores. It is located on the 3rd floor of a building in the busy Ximending. My impression about Eslite Ximending is its furniture design that employs the ancient Oriental style. I also visited Eslite Bookstore in Taichung and Kao Hsiung and somehow admired this Company for their ability to make the visitor feel impressed whenever entering into each Eslite bookstore yet still finding it familiar like coming back home.

I initially intended to name this post as kinda Bookstores in Taipei – Part 1, however, I am aware of a daunting fact that I never succeed in writing the next part for every post named Part 1, which is the reason why you may see nothing like Part 1 on the title of this post. I will try to revisit this topic another day ‘coz there’s still a lot to say about the bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan.

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