A Utopia for Bibliophiles--Reading in Old Houses
Houses grow old, books wear out, and only readers’ souls stay young and fresh. When interesting books meet storied old houses, the result is often a duet of essence and experience. Then, the physical world and the world of books are worth in-depth exploration.
VVG Chapter – A Secret Space in the Big City
VVG Chapter (好樣文房) is a secret alcove in the crowded city. With doors closed, fences and trees blocking prying eyes, this reading room in a renovated Japanese-style dorm is hidden away from the busy neighborhood around MRT Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station.
The verdant VVG Chapter is actually a library, and anyone over 15 years old can make a reservation to get in. From the 1920s to the 1940s, this building was a residence for government officials during the Japanese era. It is an elegant and classic wooden structure with an interior that mixes both Japanese and western styles. Decorated with assorted memorabilia from Japan, France and Taiwan, it’s the perfect blend of styles. According to the manager, Yang Shu-yu (楊淑瑜), VVG Chapter stocks over 4,000 titles, mainly design, art, architecture, and cook books. There’s also a space for thematic displays fostering a “Conversation Between Taiwanese and Japanese Artists.” New exhibits are presented on a bimonthly basis, and each time one opens, one Taiwanese and one Japanese artist will be invited to have a stimulating conversation.
With the aroma of cypress in the air, VVG Chapter is warm, bright and tranquil. You can read books, look at exhibits, have tea and snacks, or just sit quietly and watch the changing light and shadows. Enjoy one of life’s sweet moments at VVG Chapter!
Bookstore 1920s – Return to the Good Old Days
At the most crowded corner on Dihua Street (迪化街), the delightful little Bookstore 1920s (1920s 書店) sits quietly awaiting browsers. This iconic building in the Dadaocheng neighborhood was once the very first western pharmacy in Taiwan: Watson’s. That building was destroyed by fire in 1998, but the original owner’s descendants have rebuilt it and shown the world its beauty again. In the store, you can still see two dark old medicine cabinets – now displaying books yet somehow still whispering of the legacy and history of days past.
Bookstore 1920s considers itself as the “originator of time-space conversion,” stocking books of and about the 1920s exclusively. The store’s collection preserves the most cherished essence of the Twenties: the many cultures and intellectual movements that coexisted and sparked each other. Bookstore 1920s hopes that their selection of books will help readers break the boundaries of time and space, shine some light on those glorious days, and bring some of that spirit back to today’s world.
Bookstore 1920s attracts different kinds of customers. Japanese tourists search for maps and photography books. We talked with a Japanese woman, married to a Taiwanese, who came looking for reference material for her thesis. Others, like visitors from Hong Kong and Mainland China are more interested in history books with a different perspective; while Taiwanese customers tend to prefer titles dealing with local culture and history. Sometimes, you might bump into a neighborhood elder talking about the “good old days” – don’t pass up a chance to chat as they represent genuine living history! The customers of the bookstore reflect Dadaocheng’s past and present.
Walkingbook – A Hundred Ways of Reading
If Bookstore 1920s is like an open door then Walkingbook(行冊), tucked quietly 200 meters away on Yanping North Road (延平北路) is a sanctuary where people can linger and browse. Many people think of Walkingbook as just a restaurant, but what they don’t realize is that the bookstore on the third floor is the real spiritual heart of the place. The name, Walkingbook, comes from a Chinese idiom: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” This building used to be part of Daan Hospital, founded by Chiang Wei- Shui (蔣渭水), the father of the Taiwan New Culture Movement. It also served as the main office of Taiwan MinPao (台灣民報), the only organ of free speech in the Japanese era, and thus it witnessed much of the important political and cultural progress of modern Taiwanese history.
Visitors need to pay to enter Walkingbook – NT$300 for eight hours or NT$200 for four hours. The stock here is comprised of three main categories: books on Taiwan independence, graphic design magazines, and literary and art books. The volumes on Taiwanese independence top all the others, showing how much Walkingbook cares about the values of self-determination and freedom.
The interior design at Walkingbook is as marvelous as the selection of books. Open the door and you enter a world of amazing designs in honor of Chiang Wei-Shui on the first and second floors. Going up to the third floor, you will discover a serene and refined space, which practically compels you to find your most comfortable position (standing, sitting, leaning or lying down) to explore the “100 ways of reading.” Let your mind and body center and clear – then you will enter the magic kingdom of the book you are about to read. This is an experience you won’t find elsewhere!
Article ｜ Mu Hua