Fairy­tale city of books

Our colum­nist is trans­ported by a won­der­ful book­store dur­ing her trav­els.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - ABBY WONG Abby Wong is crouching in her chair as she writes, con­tem­plat­ing un­pack­ing the lug­gage full of books she brought back from her re­cent trip.

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


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