In a digital age when many people use iPads, Kindles or other electronic devices to read, rummaging through shelves of books at small, local establishments may seem like an activity of bygone days. But that tradition is being celebrated at the Reading Festival of Independent Bookstores (獨立書店閱讀節), which comprises a series of reading activities at seven independent bookstores across the country and runs through June 1.
The festival organizer, Taiwan Small Life Culture Creativity Promotion Association (台灣小小生活文化創意推廣協會), has held, since its inception in 2009, a wide range of cultural activities, including guided tours of several independent bookstores in Taipei, such as Tonshan Bookstore (唐山書店) and SMC Publishing Inc (南天書局).
The festival encourages participants to visit distinctive local establishments that reflect their owners’ ideas and tastes. Hungya Bookstore (洪雅書房) in Chiayi, for example, is noted for its participation in social movements while boasting a rich collection of books and periodicals covering the humanities, history and Taiwan studies. Housed in a building put up during the 1940s, Huwei Salon (虎尾厝沙龍) in Yulin specializes in feminism and gender and environmental studies and is equipped with a gallery space and outdoor cafe.
The value of human interaction usually takes precedence over making money with small businesses, says Tsai Yi-hsin (蔡怡欣) from the association, and that is what attracts people like herself to indie bookstore.
“People who work at my favorite places know what I like. We talk about things, share ideas, and they make useful recommendations,” Tsai said. “I’ve never had that at chain bookstores.”
Each participating bookstore has invited a lecturer to hold a book reading session on various topics. At Small Small Bookstore (小小書房), which is tucked away in a maze of alleys near the Dingxi MRT Station (頂溪捷運站) in Yonghe (永和), poet and theater director Hung Hung (鴻鴻) will share his thoughts on Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities on May 12. The following day, Chinese-language literature professor Wu Ming-yi (吳明益) will talk about Out of China or Yu Yonghe’s Tale of Formosa: A History of Seventeenth-century Taiwan (遇見三百年前的臺灣—裨海紀遊) at River Book (有河book), a tranquil establishment run by a poet couple that overlooks the Tamsui River (淡水河) in Tamsui and focuses on the arts and literature.
Reading aside, members of the general public are encouraged to contribute to the association’s ongoing effort to create a map of Taiwan’s independent bookstores. Those interested in sharing their favorite places can contact the organizers at email@example.com. For more information on the festival, go to the event’s Web site at smalllife2009.pixnet.net/blog.