Fairytale city of books
Our columnist is transported by a wonderful bookstore during her travels.
IWAS finally here at Eslite Bookstore, just a couple of blocks from Taipei 101. So exciting! First things first: I went straight to the 4th floor, which boasts a display of English and Chinese books side by side and complementing each other.
And indeed they did, though not every Chinese book had an English partner. When they did, though, the sight was awe-inspiring.
It felt as if the East was agreeing with the West, and together they presented the world the way both saw see it. So harmoniously and so aesthetically ... this bookstore had me at hello!
Rectangular in design, the 4th floor opened up in the middle, purposefully vacant and bright, surrounded on all four sides by shelves of books. Like most bookstores, the lighting was neither too bright nor dim, and in places where book highlights demanded brightness, lights beamed right at that spot, seemingly through walls and shelves and despite distance. The feeling was miraculous.
The highlights tables were most interesting, as each told a story. The one in the history section was a grand one. Indian, Chinese, Islamic and Western civilisations convened high on the altars of their stacked-up copies, each approving the other and together telling their own versions of history.
The self-enrichment tables showcased books equally desirable. Japanese, Chinese and English gurus shared their thoughts, but it was a Japanese who won me over with a simple book about having less for a more meaningful life.
Like a hungry child in a sweet shop, I couldn’t get enough of the store. The evergreen titles looked all the more alluring when placed together in bulk as part of a thematic display; the effect was simply dramatic.
I was tempted to buy May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt’s Talking About Jane Austen In
Baghdad (2011), and in my hands were also the Chinese version of Charles Mann’s 1493: How Europe’s Discovery Of The Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology And Life On Earth (2012) as well as Ian Morris’s Why The West
Rules – For Now (2011). And many more were waiting to jump into my hands if only there was room.
Unbelievably, my husband, who used to be an avid reader but is now an online news devotee, actually picked up some books. He bought three books and – in the lower level of the building where the aroma of Taiwanese food wafted in the air – he dove right away into Christopher Lloyd’s What On Earth
Happened? (2009). We spent the next four hours in the bookstore and he read half of the book, totally immersed and obviously pleased.
“The power of display is best exemplified in Eslite,” my husband remarked on our way home, his book tucked tightly under his arm, on the verge of turning him into a bookworm once again.
Those smart merchandisers in Eslite brought out the books they love and made us love them, too, he said. Mr Bookworm is back, I thought happily. We ended up buying more books than we intended to or had initially allowed ourselves to.
My sister, an equally feverish book lover, bought five books, though she had her heart and her fingers on more.
On the plane, she regretted not buying a couple more, which she vowed to get from bookstores in Kuala Lumpur the next day. She failed, or rather, the bookstores failed her. I guess Malaysian stores are more inclined towards mainstream titles while Eslite offers both mainstream and obscure ones. But obscurity, my sister argues, is defined by merchandisers. Charles Mann’s 1493 – an amazingly eyeopening book about history – shouldn’t be obscure, she continued.
I cackled. So let’s go back. Let’s set our eyes once again on the vibrant display. When placed together at different heights, those books formed the skyline of a bookish city, and those characters on the covers were cheeky children hopping and jumping from one roof to another in this imaginary city where lights seemed to find them from nowhere, and where visitors hallucinate ... we were totally awestruck by the fairytale created visually by those bookish people at Eslite.
I wanted to buy an English version of John Hart’s The Last Child (2010). It was sold out because of the popularity of its Chinese version. An Eslite assistant from whom I sought help had read it and she made me want to read it all the more during our 15-minute chat.
She spoke fabulous English to accommodate my zig-zagging Mandarin. Her bookish face was as dramatic as it was alluring. When she was most excited, one of her brows arched and her dimples appeared to delight. Pearly white teeth twinkled, and her voice hollowed out at the climax as she briefly told me the story.
I nearly wailed for not being able to have the book in that instant, walking away, sobbing.
Yes, I am being overly dramatic in my descriptions, but Eslite did elicit such feelings. The majestic interior, the people, their courtesy, the books, the ambience, the music and lights, it all made the Eslite Bookstore our sanctuary during our three-week trip to Taiwan and Japan.
And yes, I will return soonest possible.
Together we stand: eslite bookstore’s side-by-side display of complementing english and chinese books — the sight is awe