The Taipei International Book Exhibition (台北國際書展) runs through Monday at the Taipei World Trade Center (台北世界貿易中心). If you are a devoted bookworm, you will love it — unless you have a horror of crowds. Here is my review, in bullet point form. For information, check out my article in the Taipei Times or the exhibition’s Web site.
- The Taipei International Book Exhibition isn’t just about selling books — it explores new ways of transmitting information, as well as the tactile pleasures of reading. The event makes an argument for how books are still relevant in the digital age while honoring their history. There are plenty of interactive displays and e-readers at this year’s festival: visitors get to try out everything from the Hami application for iPhones to digital illustration software. The beauty of printed books and book design is also celebrated. The National Taiwan Museum of Literature has a concise but informative exhibit that features vintage maps of Taiwan, schoolbooks from the 1930s to 1960s and handwriting samples from famous authors. Another art exhibit called The Impossible Library showcases handmade art books inspired by conceptual, Dadaist and surreal art.
- This year’s theme country is Bhutan, an unexpected but intriguing choice. Their display is organized like a reference library, with hundreds of books that visitors are free to pick up and peruse. Unfortunately, Bhutan’s new monarch, the totally hot 30-year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck won’t be visiting, but there are some artifacts, including 12th century copy of “The Eight Thousand Verses of Transcendental Wisdom” (八千誦), traditional clothing, stunning textiles, samples of hot butter tea and a documentary with this ironic line: “In 2008, the king introduced democracy to Bhutan against the wishes of his people.” (ETA: One of my readers, Andrea from Green Tea, recently wrote a fascinating post about Bhutan’s national dress code).
- TIBE’s organizers do an excellent job of making sure there is something to engage readers of all ages. Halls 2 and 3 of the Taipei World Trader Center are devoted to manga, children’s books and art/school supplies. One of the exhibitors in the main hall also had this fascinating contraption, which a small boy was being strapped into. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to stay and watch him being launched.
- The exhibition draws an impressive roster of international literary talent, with 300 authors participating in the event. These include Jostein Gaarder and Dan Millman, who spoke yesterday.
- In addition to books, the TIBE also had a section dedicated to Taiwanese indie designers and artists, including Por Que Base. I wrote about Por Que Base last year and was thrilled to run into Syko and Evan and take a pinhole camera workshop with them.
- The scale of the event is overwhelming. The first day of the exhibition drew 88,000 visitors, a new record. I don’t mind being surrounded by thousands of other bookworms and the gigantic main exhibition hall is okay — the trade off for getting lost a few times is being able to peruse items from hundreds of publishers and distributors from around the world. But the Comics Hall was so tightly packed and the aisles so narrow that I had to leave within a few minutes because it was extremely uncomfortable. Maybe I would feel differently if I was a bigger fan of manga and animation. As it was, I agreed with the sentiment behind this sign that was randomly taped next to a restroom (presumably not by TIBE’s organizers): “If you want to vomit, you can vomit here.”
- The main hall was swarming with extremely aggressive representatives from Citibank and the National Geographic Channel. I felt like Worf, running a gauntlet filled with Klingons carrying painsticks… only instead of painsticks, the reps had clipboards and promotional materials that they shoved in my face. I made the mistake of looking in one Citibank rep’s direction. His eyes lit up like the Terminator and he started yelling after me as I scampered off: “Come here! You’re looking for me, lady! You’re looking for me. I think you’re looking for me. She’s looking for me. Yeah, you want to talk to me. Come here, lady! Come back!” Other reps were screaming things like “Hey pretty lady, want to come back to my booth and watch five minutes of our latest series about the African bush?” I saw one National Geographic lackey chase after a woman for several yards, even though she was doing her best to ignore him. The weird thing was that most of the reps were men, and most of them seemed to be targeting women. Overzealous salespeople are par for the course in Taiwan, but when did sexual harassment become a marketing technique for nature documentaries? Aside from making me feel uncomfortable, my run-ins with the reps also kept me from spending money on books. There were a couple of booths I wanted to return to, but I changed my mind because they were located in aisles filled with
zombies lusting after my brainsmarketing reps. I’m annoyed because there were some cool Japanese home decorating books that had been translated into Chinese and were priced at three for NT$500. I could be flipping through them right now, but nooooooooo, all I have is a NT$500 bill in my wallet and a broken heart.
I’ll post about some books I am excited about in the next few days.