The independent bookstore has fled the traditional business pattern of simply selling books and become a platform for forums and activities, a place where informed citizens know they can speak up freely. Among the stacks, any issue can be raised. But it is not a rigid classroom or lecture hall – there is no need to sit up straight and anything can be discussed. No opinions are off-limit. There are no “right” answers and with just a little change of mindset, something totally unexpected may happen.
Yue Yue Bookstore – A Maverick Cultural Salon
Situated alongside Songshan Cultural and Creative Park’s (松山文創園區) Ecological Pond, this verdant cabin seems to cast a spell that draws people in. Built in 1954 as the former Songshan Tobacco Factory (松山菸廠) nursing room, it is a tranquil space imbued with a kind of retro-Japanese atmosphere. In 2001, it was registered as a municipal historical site. After the TV series Lovestore At The Corner (巷弄裡的那家書店) was shot there, Yue Yue Bookstore (閱樂書店) took residence. Last year, the bookstore invited cultural worker, Chang Tieh-Chih (張鐵志) to be its chief advisor and then reopened.
According to Yue Yue’s curator, Lin Zhe’an (林哲安), although serving the reading public is the core purpose, the bookstore is developing a diverse range of business activities to augment it. The hope is that it will become a platform for civil discussion and a gateway performance venue for minority artists. Speeches are presented on a monthly basis, and people of all stripes are regularly invited to brainstorm and participate in the public discourse.
Instead of catering to the best seller list, Yue Yue targets different market segments with its own unique title selection. “Yue Yue is considered an extension of Chang’s study,” says Lin. “Literature and books on social issues predominate.” Since taking the job, Lin has added a Hong Kong section – a tribute to the fact that Chang once lived there. This new area includes mainly titles from small independent publishers and magazines. Lately, more and more visitors from Hong Kong have bought books there.
Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is a popular site for domestic and international visitors. From time to time, you’ll see people taking pictures and checking in on Facebook. Yue Yue Bookstore has been roundly described as “beautiful inside and out.” The twin aromas of coffee and books mingle here, as do the emotions of the written word.
The Libratory – A Literary Think Tank
Yang Mienyin (楊緬因) is only twenty-something and while in the anthropology department of National Taiwan University (NTU ; 國立台灣大學), he started selling second-hand books from a little stand. Before long, his collection had piled up to the point that, although still at school, he had to open a real shop in a basement on Taishun Street (泰順街) near National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU ; 國立台灣師範大學). He gave his new bookstore a witty name: The Libratory (公共冊所), expecting it to be a place where people could come and “let it all hang out.”
The store stocks mainly social science books, but also carries some academic theses and government publications that are rarely seen at other similar locations. Students from nearby NTU and NTNU come here hunting for treasures! But, there’s a wall dedicated exclusively to new books, too, showcasing titles published by The Libratory independently. Yang says that he didn’t start out with the intention of building any particular style; his limited resources dictated that the bookstore shape its own character organically. The sales counter was purchased from a comic book store that was going out of business, and the comfy sofa was found right on the street! The rainbow flag was a gift from friends. All of these accoutrements seem to fit right in with The Libratory’s casual ambience. A Czech student named Peter says, “There’s a Bohemian style to it.”
The Libratory is also a meeting and event space. Speeches are given here from time to time, on such topics as transitional justice, marriage equality, wine culture, and so on. Book launches also happen frequently. Yang keeps an open mind and never rejects any subject as a topic for discussion. “Working, reading and making friends are what make me feel human. A bookstore is not only a business, but also a lifestyle.” Since it is not easy to survive in the book trade, he and his partners all have other day-time jobs, which means that The Libratory doesn’t open until four in the afternoon each day; so don’t knock on the door too early!
Buffalo Bookstore – A Portal Between Land and Word
Buffalo is a bookstore but also a produce shop! A lot of people learned about it through Lo Wenjia (羅文嘉). In fact, Buffalo Book Co. (水牛出版社) started 50 years ago but Lo only took it over in 2012, invited by the former owner. After quitting politics, Lo had gone back to farming in his hometown, Xinwu, Taoyuan (桃園新屋). He then decided to open a bookstore at his house and then a Taipei branch in 2013.
According to the manager of the Taipei branch, Liu Zhaohui (劉昭卉), Buffalo Bookstore (水牛書店) has grown slowly to what it is now. Since the organic, toxin-free fruits and vegetables from small Xinwu farms frequently had a less than appealing look, they decided to open a farmer’s market next door and gradually introduced more products. Later on, Buffalo decided to open a restaurant and share their belief in healthy ingredients. Many customers would shop at the bookstore after enjoying their meals, or buy fruits, veggies and literature in one trip. Always a man who believes in giving back to society, Lo has donated all profits from selling rice to support rural education. Thus, a nurturing cycle is created whereby the natural and intellectual worlds reinforce each other.
The store mainly stocks books on literature, history, philosophy, Taiwanese culture and agriculture. There’s a whole section devoted to Buffalo’s own publications, and people in their 50s and 60s often come hunting for treasures. Sometimes they are surprised to find the same text books they once used at school! Books related to diet and nutrition are especially popular since speeches and courses on this subject are held at the bookstore on a monthly basis.
With its cheerful space, friendly sales people and flavorsome drinks, Soho worker Xie considers Buffalo his office, praising it as a place that inspires both the deepest reading and the most imaginative writing. Liu is confident that there is something for everyone at Buffalo, and she welcomes you all to drop by sometime!
New Year’s Reader
Staying in Bed on Sundays (周日牀上), the autobiographical novel by the late writer and founder of City Magazine (號外雜誌), Yau Si Man (丘世文), describes the daily lives and tangled emotions of 1980s white collar workers in Hong Kong. It is considered one of the classic books of all time. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Yau’s passing, a restored edition has been published and is being sold exclusively at Yue Yue in Taiwan. (Recommended by Lin Zhe’an.)
Yue Yue Bookstore
133, Guangfu S. Rd (光復南路133號)
Due to Yang Mienyin’s fondness for observing life’s up and downs, the Libratory commissioned Lee Winshine (李玟萱) to write a book, entitled Life Stories of the Homeless in Taiwan (無家者：從未想過我有這麼一天), under the name of Guerrilla Publishing. Lee tells the story of 10 homeless people and 5 social workers, using a straightforward style that describes their real-life difficulties in basic human terms.
The Libratory 公共冊所
Basement, 24, Taishun St (泰順街24號地下室)
Readers keep coming back for more of the Japanese manga, Midnight Diner (深夜食堂), in which a restauranteur’s home-style cooking warms the heart as it tempts the palate. The designer of this “gourmet” publication, Nami Iijima also presents some classic dishes in her own book, Shinya Shokudo no Ryoricho (深夜食堂料理帖). The delicacies presented are not hard to make and Liu Zhaohui recommends readers give them a try. Bring good food and good conversation back to your dining table!