【Author Hsuan Yin Chang, Genie Zheng】
【Photographer George Zhan, Yuskay Huang, Boven Magazine Library, Jenny Lee】
Taipei possesses a wealth of reading resources. According to a study released by the World Cities Culture Forum in 2016, Taipei ranked second in the world in terms of bookstores per capita. The city is home to many large chains as well as distinctive indies, not to mention a world-famous bookstore open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In its prime, during 1980s and ‘90s, Zhongzheng District’s Chongqing South Road (重慶南路) was home to more than a hundred bookstores, the highest concentration of book shops in Taipei. For many literati, intellectuals and students, it was a book lover’s paradise, where tomes of any kind and purpose could be found. Nevertheless, as time went by, due to multiple factors such as the impact of online bookstores and a decrease in the number of readers, this “bookstore street” gradually disappeared. Today, independent bookstores are spread all over Taipei.
However, though Chongqing South Road is no longer what it was, this city still counts many book lovers among its residents, some of whom put on intriguing talks and other events that invite attendees to recall the pleasures of reading, especially physical books, and establish a reading habit. The Unicorn Reading Project (獨角獸計畫) is one such effort.
The Unicorn Reading Project was founded by Jenny Lee (李惠貞), an editor and strategist with more than twenty years of experience in the publishing industry. The way she tells it, the idea came to her in a flash in the morning. Though it might have seemed farfetched at the time, in fact it was the culmination of her many years of experience with editing and publishing. Afterward, she decided to focus on doing the work that would bring her happiness, namely promoting reading, and left her day job.
Starting Out with the Establishment of Reading Habits
The Unicorn Reading Project was officially launched in 2017. At the start, Lee had no idea how much it would grow. She figured she would take that crucial first step, and leave the rest up to life in the universe. Now her project is entering its sixth year.
Lee chose to devote her efforts to promoting reading not just because she loves publishing, but also because she believes that books contain all the answers; as the books we read seep into the unconscious, they become a source of personal growth.
She often uses social media to share her thoughts on the books she reads, analyzing them from a variety of angles ranging from content to design. Each post ends with a list of people who worked on the book, including such figures as the cover designer, typesetter, and managing editor. It's clear to see that in addition to her keen eye as a reader, Lee has a deep respect for the unsung heroes of the publishing world.
Lee reads around fifty books a year. She says that each encounter with a book must be savored, but at the same time sees no need to finish one book before starting the next. As a result, she often has multiple books on the go at the same time. In the morning she might choose to read a relatively dense tome on science to expand her knowledge, while before going to bed she might opt for nature writing to wind down; before heading out the door, she picks a book to bring along based on how she's feeling at the moment.
As an inveterate reader, Lee finds that this way of reading is an endless source of inspiration. She delights in discovering two books that reach the same insight just as much as in finding two authors who present contradictory arguments on the same issue.
The Road to Promoting Reading
The landscape of Taipei bookstores has changed much, and some people may assume the act of promoting reading is due to a decrease in reading among society at large. But as a reader and a reading promoter, Lee does not think the habit of reading in Taipei has changed significantly.
What challenges has she encountered in the process of promoting reading? “As an editor and a strategist, every new idea is a challenge,” Lee says. “But that's always been our work. When a challenge appears, we find a way to overcome it. Right now, I'm creating a kind of work where I can enjoy the process without setting goals,” she goes on. “As long as half the people who come to my book club buy books, or someone tells me that they've taken up reading as a result of coming to one of my events, I feel satisfied.”
At the end of the first few meetings of her book club, multiple attendees asked if there was a way for them to stay in touch with fellow book lovers. In response, Lee created the Unicorn Reading Project group, which at present counts among its members nearly 700 readers from all walks of life, ranging from doctors and dancers to civil servants. When she needs help with an event, they lend her a hand. In an age where face-to-face contact is decreasing, the Unicorn Reading Project is doing more than just promoting reading — it's also doing the valuable work of bringing together people with shared interests to do something as a group, and create deep emotional bonds along the way.
The events that the Unicorn Reading Project have hosted or participated in to date include the “Reading and Thinking Party” series of lectures, co-hosted with advocacy platform 500 times (500輯) of United Daily News (聯合報), talking with guests and inspiring readers to think. There was also the “pre-operation warm-up event,” held in cooperation with Kuo’s Astral Bookshop, allowing participants to share their reading experience throughout the year.
Divining the Character of a Bookstore
Lee enjoys browsing bookstores as a hobby. In fact, she and her daughter once visited 66 bookstores in Japan in just a month. As a true connoisseur of books, Lee can divine the soul of a bookstore's owner the moment she walks in based on the books on the shelves. Does the owner see books as objects for display, meant to dress up a space? Or do they select books with care, organizing them by theme? With acuity born of long experience, she grasps the character of a bookstore at a glance.
To her, two prominent bookstores in Taipei’s Daan District, Maison Temps-Rêves (童里繪本洋行) and Boven Magazine Library (boven雜誌圖書館) are each unique in their own way. Maison Temps-Rêves, located on Chaozhou Street (潮州街), is home to the best picture books from all over the globe. There are various forms of binding, such as folded books or pop-up books, perfect for adults and children alike to enjoy. For those interested in visual design or strategy, picture books offer a source of inspiration and creativity.
Meanwhile, Boven Magazine Library — a rare gem — can be found in an alley off Fuxing South Road (復興南路). Asia's first magazine library, it has a collection of more than ten thousand handpicked magazines. You can find a variety of magazines from all over the world, including a wealth of Japanese lifestyle magazines that are adored by Taiwanese people. There is also space for people involved in the making of magazines to have events such as exhibitions, lectures, and sharing sessions.
“Reading begins from the moment you select a book,” Lee says. “The books you choose to read reveal what you're thinking about — what you worry about or long for.” Through her own reading, Lee has personally experienced the strength that reading brings. That's what gives her the motivation to tirelessly encourage others to read as a way of finding a direction in life and exploring the possibilities that lie within themselves as well as the rest of the world.
ADD 15, Chaozhou St., Daan Dist.
HOURS 12:00pm - 6:00pm (Tuesday to Friday)
11:00am - 6:00pm (Saturday to Sunday)
(Closed on Mondays)
Boven Magazine Library
ADD B1, 18, Aly. 5, Ln. 107, Sec. 1, Fuxing S. Rd., Daan Dist.
HOURS 10:00am - 9:00pm
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