Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Fembooks to close doors for last time

SAD LOSS The bookstore, which specializes in women's literature, is not only an outlet for feminist works but a place where people can meet to discuss gender issues


The decision by specialist bookstore Fembooks to close its doors after nine years in the business and concentrate solely on publishing has created a stir in the nation's literary circles.

"It was not an easy decision," said Fembooks founder Su Chien-ling (蘇芊玲). "After all, I am emotionally attached to the store. It has been my mission to run this business and I wanted to do much more."

The loss of the bookstore will be sorely felt.

Young female college students wanting to learn more about women's literature usually make their way to the tiny women's bookstore above the Witches House in a small lane off Shinsheng South Road.

Walking into Fembooks, customers are greeted with the most complete collection of women's publications, straight or gay, available in Taiwan. Browsers can also sit down with a cup of coffee in the small cafe connected to the bookshop, register in gender seminars or discuss women's issues.

When it opened in 1994, Fembooks was the first of its kind in Taiwan.

"Originally, we served three main functions: bookstore, public activities and publication. Now we will give up the first two and concentrate on the last section," Su said.

"We will stop displaying books from other publishers and only exhibit our own publications and those from some minority groups. We may also give up holding activities since now many other groups are doing the same thing. Meanwhile, we will continue with our publication business," Su said.

The decision to pare back services followed an investors' meeting earlier this month. Fembooks is supported by a number of small investors, mostly academics and students, who donate small amounts of money to further the bookstore's cause.

When Fembooks was established, gender issues were still not widely discussed. The bookstore aimed to provide a space where the public could get in touch with women's writing, hear women's voices and exchange women's experiences. It has played an important role in the local women's movement ever since, and provided curious students and citizens with important introductory materials, including the self-published Feminism Theories and Sects (女性主義理論與流派).

Su said that chain bookstores have had a large impact on Fembooks' business, especially since Eslite set up a special gender studies section. Su said it was difficult to compete with the big stores since they can usually squeeze better prices out of publishers.

"The famous Sisterhood bookstore, close to the University of California and Los Angeles, also failed to survive after a Borders branch opened in the area," Su said.

Fembooks is close to National Taiwan University, yet a branch of Eslite stands opposite its front gates.

Since Eslite moved into Kungkuan, the area the university is situated in, many independent bookstores around the university have felt the impact.

"Now customers visit Eslite first and see whether it has got the books they want. Unless they cannot find the books they want there, they don't come to our shop, " said Huang Miao-ling (黃妙齡), the proprietor of Taiwan's Shop (台灣的店), which focuses on Taiwanese culture.

"Sometimes when customers pay for their books, they say to me, `I simply could not find the book at Eslite.'"

Fembooks investor Professor Bih Herng-dar (畢恆達) puts it more bluntly.

"Those who care about Fembooks are those without money," said Bih, who teaches at National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Building and Planning.

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