Representatives of the nation's leading publishing houses were joined by members of the local literati in the auditorium of Taipei's Red Theater (紅樓劇場) early last week, as Taiwan's largest bookstore chain, Kingstone (金石堂), dished out prizes and celebrated the most influential books of 2004 at its annual book awards ceremony.
Now in its 22nd year, the annual awards ceremony has not only become one of the nation's leading literature-related events, but is also seen by many in the publishing industry as the most significant indicator of the nation's reading habits.
"It was a very diverse year for publishers last year. More books about more topics were sold, which indicates that Taiwan readers have matured. Unlike 20 years ago when reading habits were predictable, they have become more diverse in recent years," said Kingstone's Director Chou Chuan-feng (周傳芳).
Taiwan's readers may have become more open-minded, but once again it was the international bestsellers that outsold works by local authors and, if you choose to believe Kingstone's polls, proved to be the most influential reads of 2004.
"It's not that works by local authors don't sell; they do. But Taiwan's readers are becoming more international in their outlooks. Because of this people in Taiwan not only want to read good books, but at the same time they want to discover more about the world and in so doing get a more global view of things," said Kingstone's Lu Yu-chia (盧郁佳).
Last year Taiwanese read more books than in 2003. And although the bookstore chain closed 10 of its branches, according to Kingstone's Neil Peng (馮光遠), sales increased by 17 percent and the bookstore giant enjoyed total sales upward of NT$36 million.
For the first time in three years best-selling children's author JK Rowling didn't steal the show. The British author was instead beaten to the post by Dan Brown's worldwide hit, The De Vinci Code, which sold over 300,000 copies in Taiwan.
Rowling remained one of the favorites, however. Both the original English-language edition and the translated version of the latest Harry Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, continued to prove hugely popular and clocked sales of nearly 200,000 copies.
The other top-selling international books of 2004 were Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead, Yann Martel's Life of Pi, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan's Confronting Reality, Clayton Christensen, Michael Raynor's The Innovators Solution, Ron Clark's The Essential 55 and John B. Miller's QBQ! The Question Behind the Question.
The top Chinese-language books were led by Acer Group Chairman and CEO Stan Shih's (施振榮) guide to better management: Transformation Management for New Acer and the Millennium (宏的世紀變革).
This was followed by Logy Dog's comedic and surreal look at modern life in The Most Famous Bird in Taiwan (羊肉爐不是故意的) and by Zhang Yihe's (章詒和) controversial account of political upheavals in China since the founding of the PRC: The Past Doesn't Disappear Like Smoke
The prizes for the Most Influential Figures in the local publishing world went to author Luo Yi-chun (駱以軍) for his many achievements as one of Taiwan's leading authors of short stories and to Kuo Chung-hsing (郭重興), founder of the Republic publishing house
Along with books, the bookstore also released the results of its best-selling magazines for last year. The gossip magazine Next Magazine (壹週刊) continued to proved hugely popular and scored the top spot in the weekly category.