Now, how cool is this? It seems I have a foreign correspondent in Taiwan!
In between hanging out at local bookstores, our lovely, intelligent, and altogether lovable niece is studying there at the moment. She is one of those rare and brave German girls who has been learning Chinese since seventh grade, and is at HSK Level 3 * now.
Harry Potter will always be one of her most-loved book series, but recent favorites include The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport (which she doesn’t really need, diligent as she already is…)
* Test takers who are able to pass the HSK (Level III) can communicate in Chinese at a basic level in their daily, academic and professional lives. They can manage most communication in Chinese when travelling in China. (from: China Education Center Ltd.)
Bookstores in Taiwan: A Case Study
Photos and Text by Sonja Damaschke
Well. Not really. More like a short overview. An extract, basically. And the title is a lie anyway, because this article features only bookstores in Taipei. There it is. I’m a liar.
But I’m also currently spending my semester abroad in Taipei, so what better way is there to spend my days than to visit bookstore after bookstore. And all of them filled with books I can’t buy because ridiculous things like ‘baggage weight limits’ exist for flights.
Anyway. Taiwan. It’s a beautiful little country, an island you east of China, below Japan and above the Philippines. The landscape is as diverse and beautiful as the people are friendly and welcoming. Taipei is the capital, located in the north of the country and one of the few places where you are guaranteed to meet fellow foreigners.
The bookstores I’ve been to are just as diverse as Taiwan itself. It would take an actual case study to describe all of them, so I simply picked three examples which I feel represent a large percentage of the type of bookstores you might encounter during a trip to Taiwan.
Manga / Comic stores
Let’s start strong: with a cliché. A lot of Taiwanese people love Japan, and therefore, Mangas and all kind of graphic novels are very popular. From what I’ve heard, the selection is much broader compared to what you would normally find in a German store, and the books are also much cheaper. However, the majority of the comics and books are either written in Japanese or Chinese. It’s almost impossible to find something in English, at least in a store which sells exclusively Mangas.
Antiquarian bookstores / Second-hand bookstores
These are the type of stores where no walls exist. It’s just books, everywhere. From the floor to the ceiling, in narrow shelves or sometimes simply in stacks on the floor. Many local students come here to hunt for old textbooks, and others simply hope to find something interesting hidden in this flood of books. Sadly, you need to be able to speak and read Chinese in order to enjoy these stores fully: there’s a 0.01% chance to find something written in English… if you are lucky.
My very best friend. In every large city in Taiwan you will find a few Eslite stores. Some are small, some are larger. In Taipei, close to the famous Taipei 101 tower, I’ve been to the largest store I’ve seen so far. Floor after floor full of books, and it’s open until midnight! A few selected Eslite stores are even open 24/7.
In these stores, you’ll find everything: from Chinese literature to Western young adult books. From philosophy to science to science fiction. And the best news: you will find a lot of English books as well! They have a lot of the classics, but you will definitely find something no matter what kind of book you look for!
And if you are brave enough to take a look at the books written in Chinese: remember that they are written from right to left.
It’s a very confusing feeling to read a book ‘backwards’, but you will get used to it.